By Tracy Tranchitella, N.D.
Hormones are chemicals released from specialized glands in the body (called endocrine glands) and travel to the target organ or tissues through the blood stream. They are an integral part of the body’s homeostasis machinery to maintain harmony and a healthy life. Hormones are released in small quantities sufficient to cause changes throughout the entire body. Under production of any hormone can have far-reaching systemic effects resulting in hormonal imbalances. With these changes, many times even small amounts of insufficient production of a certain hormone, i.e. estrogen can manifest as a hormonal imbalance.
There are ten endocrine glands in the body: hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals (set of two), pineal, pancreas, thymus and ovaries or testes (set of two each). The pituitary is called the master gland as it controls the function of many other endocrine glands of the body. Male and females produce all the same hormones from the same regions, except for the testes (in males) and ovaries (in females). Problems in these glands can bring about hormone imbalances.
Like any body organ, endocrine glands, if they are damaged or diseased can release more or less of the hormone they’re producing which will in turn result in significant hormone imbalances. These hormone imbalances if left untreated can lead to health issues and various conditions such as diabetes, infertility, chronic fatigue, poor immune function, etc. Unfortunately, individuals can experience the hormonal imbalances at various stages of their life, and hormonal imbalances are not just a condition of the elderly or someone going through menopause.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalances
Causes of hormonal imbalances can be many. In some people, the cause is genetic. However, in the majority of people the cause for hormonal imbalances is lifestyle-related such as poor diet, sedentary habits, stress, medication use, etc. Signs and Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalances The signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances vary greatly depending upon the endocrine gland involved. Most of the symptoms are common for both males and females, as most of the glands are similar in both the genders.
The most common symptoms include lethargy and fatigue, acne, weight issues (weight gain or weight loss), mood swings, loss of libido (decreased sex drive), poor sleep, frequent illness and loss of memory. However, if the imbalances are severe, then significant issues can occur such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, anxiety, cardiac problems, osteoporosis, etc.
Alopecia (hair loss) is mostly related to the hormonal imbalances. It is important to note that hair loss is not just related to the hormones released from the reproductive organa (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone), it can also be related to hormones from the other endocrine glands of the body such as the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, pineal, or adrenals glands.
Investigations for Hormonal Imbalances
Saliva, blood or urine tests are commonly used to diagnose various hormonal imbalances. Urine testing can measure select hormones directly or measure metabolites of various hormones within a 24-hour period (wet urine) or at a specific time of day (dried urine). Blood tests, either by blood draw or dried blood spot, are the best choice when measuring thyroid hormones, FSH, LH, glucose and insulin levels. Saliva testing can measure estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol and DHEA-S and is a convenient and cost-effective choice to evaluate hormone production throughout the day. The test advised depends on the history and examination of the individual and what kind of information needs to be gathered.
Treatment depends upon which hormone is deficient and the underlying reasons for its deficiency. Hormonal imbalances need to be dealt with on an individual basis looking at underlying causes related to lifestyle, diet, sleep, infections/inflammation and stress level. Hormone replacement therapy, nutritional supplementation, resolution of infections and causes of inflammation along with stress management can effectively treat most hormone imbalances resulting in great improvements in overall health and wellness.