We ladies know the trouble, stress, and frustration that hormonal imbalances can cause us. When hormones fluctuate, we can feel angry, emotional, tired, moody, and suffer the embarrassment from an outbreak of acne. However, no matter what our partners say, hormonal balance is key to our general health and not just a lame excuse for mood swings and feeling “off color.”
In fact, the signs of hormonal imbalances don’t just affect our mood and emotions. Our hormones also directly affect our chances of becoming pregnant and can also affect ovulation and sexual desire.
In this article, you will learn about the symptoms of hormonal imbalance and the reasons why your body’s natural chemistry is constantly changing. First of all, let’s look at why it’s important to have your hormones in balance.
What are Hormones?
Hormones are produced by glands in the body and control most bodily functions – everything from very simple needs like hunger and sleep to complex ones like the onset of puberty and controlling the reproductive system.
According to the Endocrine Society, knowing what causes changes in your hormones levels can help you take control of your health. In fact, even just small imbalances in your hormones can cause life-changing symptoms.1
For example, your adrenal glands produce cortisol which is closely connected with your stress response. However, high levels of cortisol can affect a woman’s sex drive and menstrual cycle. Cortisol can also be a factor behind high levels of anxiety and depression.2
Your ovaries secrete hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone which are sex hormones that control the menstrual cycle, fertility, and sex drive. However, according to the University of Rochester estrogen is also linked to cognitive function, breast health, and your cardiovascular system.28
Other hormones control other necessary functions in the body. For example, leptin influences your body weight and fat, melatonin helps us get a good night’s sleep, and thyroxine helps regulate your heartbeat and control your metabolism.
What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?
Your hormones have to work together in balance to help your body thrive. However, hormone ups and downs in women are very common, so if you feel that you have a hormonal imbalance, you are not alone.
Doctors from WebMD say that some of the common causes of an imbalance in hormone production in women are pre-menstrual syndrome, pregnancy, and the menopause. However, other lifestyle factors can cause hormones to fluctuate. Being overweight, not getting enough exercise, or a lack of sleep can all throw your hormones off balance.3
Other reasons for hormone fluctuations are an underactive thyroid that doesn’t produce enough thyroxine (T4). Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can leave you feeling lethargic, cause changes in your menstrual system, or make it difficult to lose weight.4
Also, diabetes is a common cause of hormonal imbalances and can affect, not just the insulin hormone, but also other blood sugar-related hormones, sex hormones, and growth hormones.5
Common Signs of Hormonal Imbalance
Knowing the signs of a hormonal imbalance in women can help you address the underlying cause and help get your hormones in balance again. Sometimes, all you need is to make some lifestyle changes to help your body produce enough hormones. Other times, you can use some natural remedies to help manage the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance.
1. Sleep disorders
A sharp rise in the hormone progesterone before your period can make falling asleep more difficult. Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD says that progesterone helps with sleep patterns and can make falling and staying asleep more difficult.6
Also, the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine reported that estrogen and progesterone drop sharply after childbirth. This can be a factor why many women have difficulty sleeping after giving birth and low levels of these hormones have been linked with post-natal depression.7
If you want to choose a more natural approach to sleep disorders, you can read my articles about the 12 best herbs for insomnia, the best foods to get better sleep, or try these essential oils to improve sleep disorders.
2. Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
A hormonal imbalance can cause you to experience mood swings and heightened anxiety just before your period or during the menopause.
Estrogen levels constantly fluctuate during the reproductive cycle. Researchers from Harvard found that women with low estrogen levels are more prone to feeling the effects of emotional stress. They found that in clinical trials, higher levels of estrogen helped to calm the “fear response” helping you to be less fearful.8
Other studies have found that fluctuations in the hormone cortisol and hormones produced by the pituitary, hypothalamic, and gonadal glands can cause depressive symptoms. Researchers found that low levels of the cortisol hormone were found in women who have fibromyalgia and symptoms of depression.9
If you suffer from mood swings and anxiety during the menopause, you can find some helpful advice in my article on 10 herbs and supplements for menopause. If depression and anxiety is a result of hormonal imbalances, then you can help relieve these symptoms naturally by trying some natural treatments for depression after consulting with your doctor.
3. Persistent acne
Regular outbreaks of acne are associated with hormonal imbalances and could be the reason why you have pimples before your period.
Although the cause of acne is clogged skin pores that become infected with bacteria, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that hormonal changes can trigger acne and make it worse. They say that low levels of androgen hormones can exacerbate acne symptoms. 10
There are many ways to get rid of acne naturally without any harmful side effects. For example, tea tree oil is a great antibacterial ingredient that can be used in many natural acne therapies.
4. Belly fat and persistent weight gain
Because hormones are connected with your weight, imbalances in hormone levels can make it more difficult to lose weight.
Dr. Natasha Turner on the “Doctor Oz Show” said that any hormonal imbalances will make it difficult to lose weight. For example, high levels of estrogen, cortisol, and insulin along with low testosterone and DHEA can cause you to put on extra belly fat.11
In fact, researchers from Harvard say that having excess abdominal fat can also disrupt your hormones even more. They found that excess fat around your belly can also produce hormones that can affect your health.12
The European Thyroid Journal also reported that low thyroid hormones slow down metabolism and can lead to weight gain.13
There are many great ways to lose belly fat naturally. For example, certain foods can help to shed a few inches from your waist while other foods should be avoided, or you can try some my 12 simple tweaks for weight loss.
5. Loss of muscle mass
Growth hormones help to build muscle mass and a lack of certain hormones may make it difficult to keep muscles strong.
The British Journal of Pharmacology reported that the pituitary gland produces growth hormones that stimulate tissue growth. These hormones interact with insulin and directly affect muscle mass.14
But did you know that you can eat green tomatoes and apples to halt muscle mass loss? Research has found that apples and green tomatoes contain compounds that can help to reverse age-related muscle weakness and atrophy. For more information on how these foods can help restore muscle mass, please read my article on how to keep muscles strong naturally.
Irregular and excessive sweating could also be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. Hormones control your body’s temperature and if your hormones are off balance, they may cause you to sweat more.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that sweating could be a symptom of a hormonal condition. However, this is usually harmless and the only problem it may cause is discomfort or embarrassment if you sweat excessively. 15
7. Memory fog
If you have found that you keep forgetting where you put things, it could because of hormonal fluctuations. The drop in hormone levels when a woman reaches the menopause can cause memory fog and even confusion. Also, stress hormones can affect the function of the brain and cause some memory impairment.
The website WebMD reported on studies carried out on the effects of low estrogen in menopausal women. They found that a drop in estrogen levels can cause forgetfulness, reduction in clarity of mind, and inability to concentrate. 16
Researchers from The University of Iowa also found that high levels of cortisol when we have stress can affect your short-term memory.17
To find out what to do about high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, please read my article on how to lower levels of cortisol naturally. You can also consume these foods and herbs to improve memory or sniff this herb to enhance your memory.
8. Hunger pangs
Feeling frequent pangs of hunger is also a sign that your hormones are up and down. Your body secretes a number of hormones that control appetite and hunger. Any imbalance in these hormones will cause food cravings and may lead to you gaining excess pounds.
Doctors from WebMD found that 2 hormones – leptin and ghrelin – need to be in balance to control hunger. For example, leptin decreases your appetite when you have eaten a meal. However, ghrelin increases appetite and can cause you to feel hungry even though you have just eaten.18
Another factor that can cause hormonal imbalance that gives you hunger pangs is a lack of sleep, so getting enough sleep is important for your overall health and to help prevent obesity.
9. Digestive problems
Stress can have a detrimental impact on your general health because it stimulates the production of certain hormones in your body. Maybe you have sometimes felt that your stomach starts turning or “churning” in stressful situations? This “gut” feeling is connected to your hormones.
The Texas A&M University found that an estrogen imbalance and some steroid hormones affect the microflora in the gut when a person is under stress. The researchers found that healthy bacteria in the gut and a healthy diet helped to reduce the response of stress in the gut.19
Other researchers have found that higher levels of hormones produced by the ovaries can also be the reason for cramping abdominal pain before your period as well as bloating and alterations in bowel patterns. It was reported that cramping pain, in particular, was more intense in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 20
10. Constant fatigue
We can all get tired from time to time, but if you feel that you are constantly tired then you could have an imbalance of the thyroid hormone thyroxin. However, other changes in hormone levels caused by lack of sleep, stress, or your menstrual cycle can also cause chronic fatigue.
The University of Maryland reported that hormone production may play a role in the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.21 Other studies have shown that hypothyroidism can cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle weakness.22
11. Headaches and migraine
Hormonal fluctuations around the menstrual cycle may cause you to have headaches or even migraines. There are many factors like stress and tiredness that can bring on a headache. However, hormonal changes can be a major factor of headaches in many women.
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic reported that hormone-headaches can be eased when estrogen levels are stable and balanced in the body. It seems that estrogen increases headache-causing chemicals in the brain around the menstrual period.23
If you suffer from headaches and migraines, then there are many helpful remedies to use at home for headache relief. Also, you can try some essential oils for migraines like lavender oil, peppermint oil, or chamomile essential oil.
12. Hot flashes and night sweats
A sign of hormonal imbalance is experiencing hot flashes and night sweats. Hot flashes (or hot flushes) are commonly associated with the menopause.
According to the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, hot flashes are one of the most common reasons for women to visit their doctor during the menopause. This is because the hot flashes can affect quality of sleep, cause depression, and result in a decreased quality of life.24
Dr. Louise Newson on Patient.info says that an estrogen imbalance can cause an intense feeling of flushing and heat in the face, neck, and chest. This makes many women self-conscious because the sweating the flushes cause are difficult to ignore.25
If you feel like you are “living in the tropics” during the menopause, then please try some of my natural remedies for hot flashes. There you can find out how remedies like flaxseed, red clover, and evening primrose oil can give you a welcome relief from menopause symptoms.
13. Vaginal dryness
Another symptom of estrogen hormone imbalance is changes in the vaginal wall that causes dryness. This can make sex uncomfortable and cause itching, discomfort and painful.
Dr. Gloria Blackman on Update.com explains that estrogen is needed to keep the vagina moist and maintain the thickness of the lining of the vagina. Some of the causes of a drop in estrogen that results in dryness in the vagina are the menopause, having a baby, or having your ovaries removed.26
Some natural home treatments for vaginal dryness include using vitamin E suppositories as a lubricant or using coconut oil and olive oil to moisturize the vagina.
14. Breast changes
If you have a hormonal imbalance, there is a greater risk that you have lumpy breasts which can feel tender and sore to touch. The lumps caused by hormonal fluctuations are usually cysts or fibroids and are harmless. However, you should always have any lump in your breast checked out by a doctor to rule out the possibility of breast cancer.
Very often, women develop larger breasts during the menopause or they can sag more. This is because the drop in hormone levels causes breast tissue to become less dense and fatty.
The National Cancer Institute says that breast changes in women are very common and aren’t usually cancerous. These changes occur due to hormonal changes or aging and you may notice that lumps come and go with your menstrual cycle.27
15. Low sex drive
Because your ovaries produce sex hormones, any imbalance in your hormone levels can affect your sexual desire. Estrogen is associated with increased sex drive and progesterone with reduced desire for sexual intimacy.
Researchers have found that the menstrual fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone greatly affect libido. When progesterone levels increased in the body before the menstrual period the sex drive decreased.
If you feel that your sex drive needs a boost, you can try epimedium (horny goat weed) as a natural remedy to improve libido.
If you suspect that you have health conditions that are related to a hormonal imbalance, you should see your doctor or trained specialists such as obstetricians, gynecologists and endocrinologists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of hormonal imbalance. They can diagnose and treat various conditions that are hormone-related and help to balance hormones.