7 Hormonal Imbalances That Could Be The Hidden Culprit

These common but yet overlooked hormonal imbalances may be the hidden culprit behind your mood swings, fatigue issues, digestive troubles, your lack of drive, and unexplained weight gain.

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Hormones are secreted by our endocrine glands (pineal gland, pituitary gland, hypothalamus, pancreas, ovaries, testes, thyroid, adrenals) and function as chemical messengers to control most major bodily functions. The most basic of needs such as hunger and sleep are controlled by our hormones, as are reproduction and libido, mood, energy, metabolism, temperature, and digestion.

For various reasons, your organs and glands may become weak or damaged over time. When a specific organ and its related hormones are compromised, it causes your entire hormonal system to spiral out of balance.

This is why some people, regardless of their diet and exercise habits, feel lousy, while others do nothing at all and feel great. With your hormones, it’s all about balance, and we often only pay them any mind once they stop working well. Too high or too low, and they can cause numerous health issues. Understanding the major hormones and what they do can help you take control of your health.

Mainstream medicine typically checks for hormonal health by running a basic hormonal panel via the blood, but because these ranges can be very broad, most patients are advised that their hormones are normal. If you are like many of our patients, you are told that you are either “just getting older”, “need to lose weight or exercise more”, or that maybe “you are depressed” and offered a drug to help you with your moods. If your labs happen to come back as “abnormal,” you may be given a prescription for a synthetic hormone cream or pill. This is intended to replace the hormones that are “low” but does nothing to address the underlying cause of “why” they are low. On top of that, these could also come with unwanted side effects.

From a functional medicine perspective, our aim is to find out the root cause of “why” our patients have hormonal symptoms and support the body’s inherent ability to achieve natural, healthy hormonal balance.

Aside from testing the blood, we also test the various fluids in the body where just as much, if not more, of our hormones can be found. This offers a much more comprehensive view of the inter-workings of the body rather than simply looking at the blood alone.

Below are some of the most common hormonal imbalances that we see in our clinic and that many of you reading this may also be experiencing.

1.  Cortisol
The adrenal glands are two tiny walnut shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys. The adrenals secrete several hormones, one of which is cortisol. In the proactive state, cortisol regulates our sleep/wake cycles and food intake. When cortisol is released it facilitates our ability to cope with, adapt to, and recover from stress. Normally our cortisol levels should be highest shortly after waking in the morning, slowly declining over the course of the day, until they drop off shortly before sleep. Adrenal dysfunction happens when there is an imbalance in this cortisol rhythm: cortisol is high when it should be low or low when it should be high. Cortisol can also be too high or too low throughout the day as well. Adrenal fatigue (aka adrenal dysfunction) can result when the Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system is continually activated by what is perceived as stress – be it physical, biological (food sensitivities, toxins, infections, nutritional deficiencies, etc) or emotional. Discovering what hidden biological stressors you may have and correcting those, along with minimizing physical and emotional stressors, is a great way to address adrenal fatigue.

What You Might Experience:

  • Difficulty getting up in the morning even after a long sleep
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Cravings for salty or sugary foods
  • Low libido
  • Tired during the day but get a “second wind” in the evening
  • Fatigue after exercise
  • Can’t stay asleep
  • Dizziness when standing up quickly
  • Afternoon headaches
  • Blood sugar issues
  • Flushing when stressed
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Asthma, allergies, getting sick frequently

Possible Testing: 24 hour Adrenal Stress Index, a salivary or urinary test that tracks cortisol throughout the day, and cortisol metabolites, to check how well you are eliminating cortisol.

2.  Thyroid

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ that sits at the front of the neck and produces thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), collectively known as thyroid hormones. T4 is converted to the active hormone T3 by the liver and kidneys and every cell in our bodies requires thyroid hormones to function properly. Our metabolism, heart rate, digestion, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance all rely on having adequate levels of thyroid hormones. The newest research has shown that the lab ranges for “normal” thyroid are too large, and the actual amount of thyroid hormones in the tissues can still be too low.  Unfortunately, many doctors are still unaware of this research, and they are still prescribing thyroid hormones based on the standard broad lab ranges.

What You Might Experience:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling cold in your hands, feet, or all over
  • Requiring excessive amounts of sleep
  • Weight gain, even with a low-calorie diet
  • Difficult, infrequent bowel movements
  • Depression or lack of motivation
  • Morning headaches that wear off as the day progresses
  • Thinning at the outer third of eyebrows
  • Thinning of hair on scalp or coarse hair
  • Excessive hair falling out/Brittle nails
  • Dry, puffy skin
  • Mental sluggishness and poor concentration
  • Unexplained infertility

Possible Testing: Conventional medicine typically assesses thyroid function by measuring TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and sometimes T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone). Unfortunately, there are many types of thyroid dysfunction that do not show up on a standard thyroid panel. These can include an Autoimmune thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, poor thyroid hormone conversion, and thyroid resistance. A functional medicine thyroid panel is very comprehensive and tests for other labs such as free T3 (active thyroid hormone), T3 uptake, reverse T3, SHBG and thyroid antibodies to rule out autoimmune thyroid problems, which can manifest far before the TSH becomes abnormal.

For a more in-depth understanding of the thyroid, including four signs you may have a thyroid problem, click here.

3.  Estrogen
Estrogen refers to a group of chemically similar hormones: Estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2) and Estriol (E3). Estrogen binds to receptors on cells in target tissues and affects not only the breast and uterus, but also the brain, bone, liver, heart and other tissues. Estrone and Estradiol are the stronger forms of estrogen and they have been linked to hormonally-dependent cancers and heart disease. Estradiol, on the other hand, has a protective effect.

Symptoms of Low Estrogen in Women:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Poor concentration
  • Night sweats
  • Painful sex
  • Brain fog
  • Recurrent bladder infections
  • Depression
  • Hot flashes

Symptoms of High Estrogen in Women:

  • Feeling puffy and bloated
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Fibroids and Cysts
  • PMS
  • Feeling anxious and/or depressed
  • Migraine headaches
  • Abnormal PAP smears or cervical dysplasia
  • Insomnia
  • Weepy and emotional

Symptoms of High Estrogen in Men:
Men don’t produce estrogen like women but produce it through a process called aromatization, where testosterone is converted to estrogen. Excess activity of the enzyme aromatase can cause low testosterone and high estrogen in men, resulting in:

  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Fatigue
  • Low libido, decreased morning erections, erectile dysfunction
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Depression

Possible Testing: A urinary hormone test can check for all three forms of estrogen and examine how well the body is eliminating (detoxifying) the stronger forms.

4.  Progesterone
Progesterone is produced by the ovaries in women and in small amounts by the adrenal glands, in both sexes. Progesterone helps to balance out the harmful effects of too much estrogen (estrogen dominance) and helps to prevent miscarriage and early labor. When estrogen levels are not balanced out by adequate levels of progesterone it can lead to excess fat deposition in addition to the symptoms below:

What You Might Experience:

  • PMS
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual cycles
  • Insomnia
  • Unhealthy looking skin
  • Painful breasts
  • Water retention
  • Stubborn weight gain
  • Cyclical headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Infertility, recurrent miscarriage or early labor

Possible Testing: A blood test or urinary hormone panel can evaluate progesterone levels.

5.  Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter your cells, where it is used for energy. Individuals with insulin resistance have cells that are unable to use insulin effectively. This causes a buildup of glucose in the blood and an increased output of insulin from the pancreas. Because insulin is a fat storing hormone, this pre-diabetic syndrome makes it difficult to lose weight and damages the blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also leads to stored belly fat that increases your risk of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance has been linked to an increase in estrogen and testosterone in women, which can lead to abnormal menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts, fibroids, excessive hair growth (where its not wanted), and irritability. In men, excess insulin can result in the opposite affect and lead to a decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen. Leading to erectile dysfunction and gynecomastia (excessive breast tissue).

What You Might Experience:

  • Cravings for sweets
  • Irritability and/or lightheadedness when meals are missed
  • Caffeine dependence
  • Feel shaky, jittery, or having tremors when meals are missed
  • Feeling agitated, easily upset, or nervous
  • Poor memory
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue after meals
  • Feeling hungry even after eating
  • Eating sweets doesn’t relieve sugar cravings
  • Increased belly fat
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst and appetite
  • Difficulty losing weight

Possible Testing: Fasting Serum Insulin

6.  Pregnenolone
Pregnenolone is synthesized directly from cholesterol, primarily in the adrenal glands. It is a precursor to other hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and naturally declines with age. Pregnenolone has been studied to improve metabolism, memory, mood, job performance and to prevent abdominal fat build up. We like to test for pregnenolone if someone is experiencing symptoms of adrenal fatigue, sleep issues, signs of progesterone deficiency and suffering from poor memory.

What You Might Experience:

  • Poor memory
  • Irritability and/or low mood
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Symptoms of low progesterone or low estrogen

Possible Testing: A blood test for pregnenolone

7.  Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
DHEA is made from pregnenolone and is a precursor to estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. When DHEA levels are low, your body does not have enough building blocks for proper endocrine function. DHEA facilitates weight loss as it increases metabolism, inhibits body fat storage and helps to control appetite. Chronic stress leads to an out pouring of cortisol and can prevent your adrenals from making enough DHEA needed to support proper hormonal balance.

What You Might Experience:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Feeling exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Feeling achy and weak
  • Decreased bone density or osteoporosis
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Low libido
  • Depression

Possible Testing: DHEA can be measured in a 24 hour test along side cortisol, via blood and also urine.

What Can You Do?

With Functional Medicine, we seek to identify the root cause of your imbalance and loss of normal system function.

In other words, we discover the “why” of your suffering. We help end the out of control spiral of your health condition. When we address your unique reason of “why” your glands or organs are not working properly, your hormones become balanced and your body starts to heal itself!

Most people report they suffer from a few symptoms from different types of hormonal imbalance. So, regardless if you fit into one specific hormonal imbalance or fit into all of them, lab testing can help you discover the right approach for you. There are thousands of things you could do to try and improve your health, but wouldn’t it be great to discover exactly what your body needs?

There is more to getting well than eating less, exercising more and following the standard medical modus operandi. We have a clinically proven step-by-step process for helping our patients achieve health. Our practitioners are trained in the proper identification and treatment of hormone imbalances. Take the first step in regaining your health and vitality and give our office a call and schedule a free consultation with one of our doctors.

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Take this online evaluation to discover if a hormone imbalance may be keeping you from enjoying the health you deserve.

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Josh

About The Author

Dr. Josh Shields D.C., C.F.M.P is the clinic director and owner of Integrative Wellness Centers. He is a certified functional medicine practitioner (1 of only 8000 in the U.S.) and has traveled the country as a consultant and educator of functional medicine for other professionals. Dr. Shields is recognized as an industry leader for pioneering and developing natural programs geared toward helping people reverse chronic disease and helping “healthy” people who want to become healthier. Don’t be surprised if you see doctors from other clinics spending the day and doing rounds trying to discover why Dr. Shields’ care is so effective.Dr. Shields has been helping patients for over thirteen years and has helped more than 2,000 patients successfully. Dr. Shields has been featured as an expert on several health and wellness topics for fortune 500 companies like GE capital and Comerica Bank. He is also a registered speaker for the American Diabetes Association.He and his wife have 3 children and currently live in the Novi, Michigan area.

To watch Dr. Shields own testimonial and why Integrative Wellness Centers was founded click this VIDEO button.

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