A hormonal imbalance can be so mild that it barely causes any noticeable symptoms, or it can be so severe that it causes major illness. We are all reliant on many hormonal interactions taking place every minute of every day, and yet we are largely unaware of these hidden chemicals whizzing around our bodies making all kinds of important things happen. It is only when there is a hormonal imbalance that we begin to appreciate just how essential these chemicals are, and how crucial for 0our health and wellness it is that they remain in a balanced state of equilibrium.
What are Hormones?
There are many hormones in the human body, each with very different purposes. A hormone is a chemical that is produced by the endocrine glands. These glands are located throughout the body and include the ovaries and testes, the thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and pineal gland. These are the major endocrine glands, and they each secrete hormones into the bloodstream. The hormones they secrete are essentially messengers that affect various different organs and tissues and act on them to do different things.
Hormones are responsible for many processes in the body including appetite and metabolism (the process by which the body extracts energy from the food we eat), growth (both as children and as we develop as adults), cognitive ability (how we think and learn), sleep cycles, mood (how we feel emotionally) and keeping the body regulated by managing things like hunger, thirst and temperature control. Of course, the most well-known function of hormones is perhaps the role they play in puberty, sexual function, fertility, and pregnancy. The way that all of these hormones and glands interact with one another and impact the functioning of the human body is commonly known as the Endocrine System.
What is Hormonal Imbalance?
Hormones are all about communication. They act as messengers between different endocrine glands and between endocrine glands and the organs. This means that one endocrine gland ‘tells’ another to increase or decrease the levels of hormones it is producing, or ‘tells’ an organ to change its behavior. Too much of a hormone means too much of these messages, and that can through the system out of balance. While hormones are being secreted normally, all of the many functions they are responsible for can continue healthily. However, it only takes a small fluctuation in the amount of hormone being produced by an endocrine gland and secreted into the blood in order for an imbalance to occur. The effects of an excess or a deficiency of a particular hormone will depend on what that particular hormone does.
Signs of Imbalance
The signs of an imbalance of hormones will depend on the hormone that is out of sync. Most of the hormones have multiple functions and affect different parts of the body in different ways so it is often very difficult to judge from symptoms which hormones might be unbalanced. For example, an imbalance of thyroid hormones may cause weight gain, but so too could an imbalance of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Hormones involved in sexual function may reduce the libido, but equally, they may increase it. Excess facial hair may be caused by a number of different hormonal imbalances that need to be treated, or it could be due to normal hormonal changes that take place as a woman ages. In short, any concerning symptoms should be checked out by a medical professional who will be able to decide if the symptom might be a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance. For some of the most common signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances, head over to WebMD.
Diagnosing Hormonal Imbalance
If a person is experiencing symptoms that suggest a hormonal imbalance, the first step is to visit a medical doctor who will be experienced in recognizing when a hormonal problem may be at play. They will take into account the age, sex and lifestyle and do some basic health checks to ascertain key facts like the patient’s weight, blood pressure, etc. They will also talk to the patient about how they feel, both physically and emotionally. This is important because hormones do not just affect how your body does its job, they also have a massive impact on mood and can have a major effect on a person’s psychological well being. Levels of hormones can then be checked by simple tests including blood tests. This can allow hormone levels to be monitored for changes and any problems investigated further.
Treating Hormonal Imbalance
For some hormonal imbalances, medical intervention will be required. Medications can cause hormonal imbalances, so a patient’s medication may need to be reviewed to see if it is potentially having an impact on the endocrine system. We are all different and this means we may respond differently to the same medications. Women who use hormonal contraception may find that these cause a hormonal imbalance that results in side effects which may or may not ease with time, and so professional advice is recommended to ensure that the contraceptive choice is working for the individual.
There are a number of diseases that can cause hormonal imbalances, and further investigations would be necessary in order to establish how these could be treated. Synthetic versions of some hormones can be given via medication that can help to restore balance. There are also lifestyle changes that can have an impact on the hormones. One of the most powerful of these is to relieve stress. Chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalances, and these can have a major impact on how a person feels. This might mean making major lifestyle changes. Stress-relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation and relaxation are also important.
Other non-invasive methods for helping to manage hormone imbalances include:
- Using herbal medicine and supplements
- Ensuring a healthy weight is maintained
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet with the correct nutrition levels
- Avoiding toxic chemicals, for example cleaning products, pesticides, and plastics.
For more information on individual hormones and how they work, see Your Hormones.
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