This is a topic that desperately needs discussion!
I feel like there isn’t enough information about hormones and hormonal balance in the fitness community, even though they’re truly vital for your success at the gym.
We’ll discuss hormones and hormonal imbalance in a two-part series. Today, I will talk about hormonal imbalance – symptoms, causes, and effects, and in the next post I will share with you how can you treat it and all the benefits you’ll get from balanced, healthy hormone levels.
So let’s get right into it.
Before we start talking about hormone balances and imbalances, we have to know what hormones are in the first place.
Hormones are chemical messengers which are produced by glands in the endocrine system. These messengers control most of your major body functions, from your basic needs like hunger and thirst to complex systems like reproduction, and even mood and emotions. Understanding major hormones and their function will help us take control of our health.
Hormone imbalance can affect a wide range of body functions like:
- Metabolism and Appetite
- Heart Rate
- Sleep Cycles
- Reproductive Cycles and Sexual Function
- General Growth and Development
- Mood and Stress Levels
- Body Temperature
Both women and men can be affected by imbalances in insulin, testosterone, growth hormones, Adrenaline and so on. While women are more likely to experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, men are more prone to experience imbalances in their testosterone levels.
Hormonal Imbalance in Women and Men
- Hormonal Imbalance in Women
Women experience several courses of hormonal change in our lifetimes, primarily during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Women stand at a higher risk of developing different types of hormonal imbalance disorders than men because we have different endocrine organs and cycles.
- Hormonal Imbalance in Men
Men also experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance during their lifetime. Natural causes of hormonal imbalance in men are puberty and ageing.
The symptoms of hormonal imbalance differ depending on which glands and hormones are affected.
How do you know if you have hormonal imbalance?
Here are the most common reported symptoms, regardless of gender:
Everyone feels tired at some point. It would be best if you recovered with adequate rest, hydration and a healthy diet. If these things are in place, but you still feel exhausted or can’t seem to get back to your best, you should consider having a comprehensive evaluation of your hormone levels. Adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism are widespread in our fast-paced society, a lot more than you may think.
Anxiety is a huge issue in the 21st Century, but its root cause might be surprising. Neuroendocrinology is the science of the intimate relationship between neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of the brain) and hormones. The extreme stress we take on daily leads to adrenal stimulation and has become an epidemic. The feeling you may perceive as anxiety is a result of cortisol and norepinephrine, which are produced and released by the adrenal glands.
Weight Gain or Difficulty Losing Weight
Many people struggle with their weight and in particular weight fluctuation. No matter how hard they train or starve themselves, nothing seems to work for them. It’s because of their efforts. Your body is in flight or fight mode because of your hard work and under eating. It interprets these things as stress. When your body is stressed, it produces more cortisol. This hormone signals to your body to hang on to your fat because it’s a great storage form of energy.
Trouble Sleeping or Insomnia
There are many reasons why you or someone you know might start having difficulties sleeping. However, if it’s something which persists, it’s likely to be related to hormonal imbalance. Melatonin, which is known as the sleep chemical, is a hormone released by the pineal gland in the brain. Like any other hormone, melatonin is intimately related to and affected by other hormones. They have the so-called domino effect – if one moves, that impacts all the others, and they have to adjust accordingly. If you’re not sleeping well, it would be a good idea to have a professional determine why. Conversely, if your sleep is imbalanced for other reasons, high-quality rest is necessary to bring things back into balance.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The gut has more neurotransmitters than the brain – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people commonly experience gut symptoms related to conditions such as anxiety and depression. Hormones influence many things in your body, from gut function to microbiome of the gut to the bacterial system in your intestines. Hormonal imbalances lead to imbalances in our bacterial colonies influencing their function. They can be a result of gastrointestinal imbalances and vice versa.
Skin and Hair Problems
The quality and vitality of our skin and hair are directly related to our hormones. For example, thyroid abnormalities may dry your hair or skin, or cause a thinning of the hair, hair loss or brittle nails.
PMS and Low Sex Drive
Men and women are subject to irregularities related to their sex hormones. Also, they both have relatively proportional levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone. Women who experience menstrual inconsistencies (unpredictable, too long, too short and so on) are more clearly demonstrating some abnormality in the quality, quantity, or function of their sex hormones. Women have a more precise gauge of hormone balance, but both sexes can experience sexual dysfunction or issues with their libido (sexual desire) due to the complex intricacies and interactions of these powerful substances.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
Everyone will experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance or fluctuation at different points of their lives. However, hormonal imbalance can also occur when the endocrine glands are not functioning correctly. They are specialized cells which produce, store, and release hormones into the blood. There are several endocrine glands located in different areas in your body which control different organs, including:
- Adrenal Glands
- Pineal Gland
- Pituitary Gland
- Hypothalamus Gland
- Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands
- Pancreatic Islets
Many medical conditions are known to impact some, or several, of the endocrine glands. Some lifestyle habits and environmental factors may also play a role in hormonal imbalances.
The two most common causes of hormonal imbalances:
Hormonal balance is closely related to our lifestyle – the food we eat, the exercise we get, our weight, the stress levels we put up with, and the toxins we absorb. These factors impact our body’s overall hormonal landscape. If stress becomes chronic in our lives, cortisol floods the system and total hormone production lags. Chronic stress leads to the body stealing from its supplies of available progesterone, to make more cortisol, which depletes this hormone for estrogen dominance. Recurring stress tears up our bones, melts our muscles, robs us of our strength and energy, lowers our libido, and overwhelms our immunities, putting us at serious risk for chronic illness and autoimmune diseases.
Insulin is the hormone which regulates blood sugar (glucose) levels in your body. The food we eat breaks down into glucose and insulin’s job is to simply transport that glucose into the cells which turn it into energy for our body. When your body is flooded with more sugar than it can handle, insulin resistance arises and goes hand-in-hand with rising rates of obesity and diabetes. Eating refined foods and sugars won’t give you more energy, even the contrary – they are stored in the body as fat. Increased body fat increases estrogen levels, and this leads to estrogen dominance, which causes an increased risk of breast cancer and type II diabetes. Insulin is a growth factor, and as we eat more and more refined carbohydrates and sweets, it rises and increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) which cancer cells can feed off!
To conclude Part I…
If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s obvious now – hormones and hormonal imbalance are things we have to take seriously. Especially in this fast-paced, stressful everyday life, we need to take extra precautions so we can make sure our body stays healthy, balanced, and content.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalance, know that you should talk to a doctor as soon as possible since not doing anything about it can lead to a variety of problems.
So go check your hormonal levels and come back for Part II of this article in which I’ll discuss how to treat hormonal imbalance and all the amazing benefits you get for taking care of this extra “dimension” of your body!
Talk to you soon,