More and More People Are Talking About 'Hormonal Imbalance'—Here's What That Means, and What Signs To Look Out For

For many people, their first introduction to hormones is during a middle school health class, conveniently coinciding with the same time as puberty. Hormones cause all sorts of changes during this stage in life—such as body hair growth, changes in the ovaries or testes, and impacting mood. Hormonal changes also happen in other times of life too, including pregnancy and menopause. But what about the rest of the time?

The truth is that it’s natural for hormone levels to rise and fall even over the course of a day; puberty, pregnancy and menopause are just when these changes are more drastic. Day-to-day changes are also different from experiencing hormone imbalance, which is when someone has too much or too little of one or more hormones. Experiencing a hormonal imbalance can lead to many different health conditions, some of which require medical treatment.

Keep reading to get all the facts on what hormonal imbalance actually means and how to know if your hormone levels are where they should be.

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What Is Hormonal Imbalance and Why Is It Important?

Let’s revisit that middle school health classroom for a second for a brief refresher on what hormones are and the role they play in the body. Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that are important for helping carry out a whole slew of basic functions. This includes keeping metabolism balanced, mood regulation, sexual function, the sleep-wake cycle, growth and development, and homeostasis (making sure the body’s systems stay balanced).

While certain hormones (like cortisol, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone) are more talked about than others, there are more than 50 hormones in the human body. When the body produces too much or too little of a certain hormone (or hormones), this is called a hormone imbalance.

Hormonal imbalance is different from the normal flux of hormones, which happens throughout the day and month, particularly for women. These changes are more drastic. The reason why it’s important for hormones to stay balanced is because they are needed for virtually every function in our bodies. An imbalance can create health problems, some minor and some not-so-minor.

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What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?

Many different factors can cause a hormonal imbalance. Some are part of the natural life cycle, like puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Other causes include chronic stress, steroids, certain medications, autoimmune conditions and noncancerous tumors.

Hormonal Imbalance Symptoms and What To Do If It’s Happening To You

Since hormones impact so much of how the body functions if you are experiencing a hormonal imbalance, you will likely experience certain symptoms. These symptoms include changes in mood (such as anxiety or depression), acne, fatigue, digestive issues, dry skin and hair, decreased muscle mass, heavy or irregular periods, loss of sexual desire, hair growth or loss, rapid or slow heartbeat, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, moist and warm skin, skin tags, hand tingling and numbness, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, weight gain or loss, and high cholesterol.

Since the list of symptoms is so long and varied, it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the above and have your hormone levels checked. Healthcare providers can perform blood tests to check your hormone levels to see if there is an imbalance.

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It’s important to know if you are experiencing a hormonal imbalance not only to manage symptoms (although that is important), but also so it doesn’t negatively impact your health. Many conditions are caused by hormone imbalance including diabetes, thyroid disease and infertility. Certain autoimmune conditions, like Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s disease, can cause a hormonal imbalance and are important to be treated properly.

If you are experiencing hormone imbalance, there are treatment options available. The right treatment is based on the cause. For example, if someone has low thyroid hormone levels, they may be prescribed a thyroid medication. Or a doctor may prescribe a hormone medication for someone who is deficient in a certain hormone.

Diet and lifestyle factors can help with hormone balance too. For example, if someone has low estrogen, eating estrogen-rich foods including soy, flaxseeds, dried fruits and cruciferous vegetables can help. Reducing stress and getting proper sleep can also help with hormone balance.

The bottom line when it comes to hormones is that when everything is balanced, you probably won’t think about them much; they’re working in the background keeping everything functioning. But when something is off, you’ll very likely notice. If symptoms do present themself, see your doctor. With help, you can manage your symptoms and bring balance back to your body.

Next up, learn the science behind how women's and men's brains differ from each other.