The hormones in your body work together like a symphony. Hormones are chemicals produced by different glands and tissues, and are part of the body’s endocrine system. Basically, hormones carry messages to organs to tell them what to do and when to do it.
Hormones help in regulating the body’s processes. They regulate sexual function, body temperature, appetite and metabolism, sleep cycles, mood and stress levels, and your heart rate.
If one hormone level is out of sync, then the entire orchestra gets out of tune. Hormonal imbalance means you have either too much or too little of certain hormones, which can cause serious effects on your body.
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It is normal for the hormone levels in a woman’s body fluctuate depending on your menstrual cycle and stages in your life. The hormone levels shift before and after your periods, during pregnancy and during menopause.
Hormone imbalances are usually caused by stress, hormonal disorders such as diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome, hormonal contraceptives, or the natural changes in your body during pregnancy or menopause.
Here are some of the most common signs or hormonal imbalance in women and what you can do about them:
Excess weight gain
Hormonal imbalance in women can often trigger excessive weight gain, and make it hard to lose the weight. This is because hormones play key roles in metabolism, the nervous system and reproduction – three bodily systems that are crucial in maintaining a healthy body weight.
High levels of hormones such as oestrogen, cortisol and insulin and low levels of thyroxin are often to blame for a rapidly expanding waistline.
During a woman’s monthly cycle, it is normal to experience mood changes due a fluctuation in oestrogen levels.
This might prompt some women to reach for fatty or sugary comfort foods, which lead to weight gain.
High levels of cortisol, usually referred to as a stress hormone, can slow down your metabolism and cause you to gain weight.
What to do: If you suspect that your weight gain is due to hormonal imbalances, adopt a calming practice to reduce cortisol levels. Reduce your sugar intake to regulate your cortisol levels, exercise regularly. It is also a good idea to adopt an organic or vegetarian diet - exposure to chemicals in food are known to cause increased oestrogen levels in both men and women.
A lot of women suffer from skin breakouts just before or during their menstrual period. It is estimated that 50 per cent of women between ages 20 to 29 experience hormonal acne. This type of acne also affects 25 per cent of women in the 40-49 age bracket with the onset of menopause.
The normal hormonal fluctuations are responsible for these monthly breakouts. For most women, the acne goes away as soon as their hormones stabilise. However, women who have excess androgens might have chronic hormonal acne. For some women, hormonal acne might take the form of blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, or general skin inflammation.
Excess androgens, which are male hormones like testosterone, make oil glands extra productive. The excess oil ends up clogging your skin pores and causing acne. High androgen levels might be stimulated by excess insulin.
What to do: Hormonal acne is usually treated with hormonal contraceptive pills or anti-androgen pills. Your doctor might also prescribe corticosteroids such as prednisone to soothe the inflammation. If you have insulin resistance, weight loss can also help in resolving hormonal acne.
Moodiness is one of the most common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysporic disorder, a severe form of PMS.
Pregnant women and women who are undergoing menopause are also known to experience mood disturbances. These mood changes include anger, sadness, irritability, depression and anxiety.
This mood changes happen because of fluctuations in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen has an effect on neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Hypothyroidism, which is caused by low level of thyroid hormones, can also affect a person’s mood.
What to do: Some women require a prescription of hormonal birth control pills. Other ways to relieve mood swings triggered by hormonal imbalance include regular physical exercise, avoiding stimulants (such as caffeine, alcohol, and sugar), taking calcium supplements, eating small regular meals, and getting better sleep.
When you have oestrogen imbalances, it is not uncommon to experience frequent tummy upsets. The cells lining the gastrointestinal tract have receptors for both oestrogen and progesterone. Having imbalances in these hormones often causes abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, nausea, and even diarrhea.
This might explain why women are more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) than men. Statistics show that women are twice as likely to have IBS as men. Male sex hormones such as testosterone are also known to be protective against the condition.
What to do: Research has shown that hormonal birth control pills don’t relieve digestive problems associated with hormonal imbalance. You can relieve the symptoms by taking magnesium supplements or eating foods rich in magnesium such as leafy greens, whole grains, sweet potatoes, bananas, and fish. It is also a good idea to boost healthy gut flora by taking Greek yoghurt and other fermented foods. Getting more fibre in your diet might also help relieve hormonal stomach upsets.
Low sex drive
Although testosterone is thought of as a male sex hormone, it plays key roles in the sexual health of both men and women. Low testosterone levels are a common culprit in low libido in both sexes.
One study found that when postmenopausal women with low libido were given testosterone, they reported an increase in sexual desire than the women who were given a placebo.
They also reported more satisfying sexual experiences than those who took a placebo. But the downside is high doses of testosterone can result into unwanted hair growth in women.
What to do: Talk to your doctor about the possibility of testosterone hormone therapy. You could also experience higher libido with a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise.