Made and released by your endocrine system, hormones are vital chemical messengers that travel through your bloodstream to control and coordinate most major bodily processes, from growth and development to metabolism, circadian rhythms, sexual function, reproduction, and mood.
Even a slight hormonal imbalance can lead to noticeable symptoms that affect your physical or mental health. Depending on the hormones at play, you may experience weight gain, muscle weakness, fatigue, headaches, unwanted hair growth or loss, feelings of anxiety, or other symptoms. Most hormonal imbalances occur when your body:
As a primary care expert who specializes in functional medicine and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), Heather Kennedy, PA-C, and our skilled team at Refine Medical in Oklahoma City know that if something’s off with your hormone levels, it can cause wide-ranging effects that erode your health, diminish your vitality, and undermine your well-being.
Fortunately, our comprehensive functional medicine approach can help you get to the bottom of any hormone-related symptoms you may be experiencing. With that in mind, here are four common hormonal imbalances you should know about.
Produced and secreted by the ovaries, estrogen is the main female sex hormone (along with progesterone). Although estrogen levels are influenced by a range of factors, including the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and illness, most people associate low estrogen levels with its most common cause: menopause.
Although natural and expected, the diminishing estrogen levels of menopause can trigger many bothersome symptoms, ranging from weight gain and fatigue to hot flashes and vaginal dryness. These problems can often be improved through healthy lifestyle changes or offset with HRT.
Estrogen levels can also be atypically high. Known as estrogen dominance, this imbalance is usually a result of obesity, stress, or exposure to xenoestrogens in plastics and chemicals. Symptoms include severe mood swings, heavy or painful periods, migraines, and the presence of abnormal gynecologic growths, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis.
Women aren’t the only ones who experience declining reproductive hormone levels starting in middle age. Men also produce less testosterone as they get older. Made and released by the testes, testosterone can diminish with age and cause reduced muscle and bone mass, slowed metabolism, weight gain, low libido, and erectile dysfunction (ED).
As with low estrogen in menopause, low testosterone can often be improved with lifestyle changes or offset with hormone therapy.
Women’s ovaries also normally produce a small amount of testosterone. However, if a woman has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the ovaries produce high levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone, as well as DHT, DHEA, and androstenedione. Besides causing symptoms like facial hair growth, oily skin, acne, and thinning hair, women with high androgen levels are more vulnerable to developing insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.
Located at the front of your neck, your thyroid gland makes and secretes numerous vital hormones that regulate your metabolism, which is how your body uses energy. This, in turn, affects the function of virtually every organ in your body.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) occurs when your thyroid gland produces too few thyroid hormones. With this relatively common condition, your metabolism slows down, leaving you prone to easy weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, constipation, depression, and brain fog, among other symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) develops when the thyroid produces too many hormones, causing your metabolism to speed up. Increased appetite, easy weight loss, anxiety, and a rapid heart rate are common signs of high thyroid hormone levels.
Thyroid hormone imbalances can often be corrected with medication, but in some cases, surgical treatment is also necessary to get your hormone levels back to normal.
Made and released by your adrenal glands, cortisol is your body’s main “stress hormone,” and it’s essential to optimal health. Adrenal insufficiency — which is often caused by an underlying autoimmune disorder — causes low cortisol levels that lead to exhaustion and fatigue, muscle weakness, abdominal pain, decreased appetite, and weight loss. This condition is treated with medication.
Another type of cortisol imbalance occurs when excessive, prolonged stress interferes with communication between the brain and the adrenal glands. Initially, this can cause your adrenal glands to release excess cortisol. High cortisol levels can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels and Type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of this type of cortisol imbalance include chronic fatigue, easy weight gain, weight loss resistance, and cravings for caffeine, sugar, and carbs. Medication and lifestyle changes are the main treatments for high cortisol levels.
If unexplained symptoms or health problems are undermining your well-being or interfering with your life, we can conduct a comprehensive medical assessment — including hormone level testing — to get to the bottom of your concerns.
To learn more, call 405-609-7369 or book an appointment online with Refine Medical today. We’re located in Oklahoma City.