Sometimes in my work with patients, there may be a time to look closely at the hormonal system to see where there may be issues. In fact, hormones are truly part of the reason why the human body is so fascinating and yet also so complex. The role of hormones in the human body influences just about every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. They affect our energy levels, sleep patterns, skin health, muscle tone, general appearance, how we age, and much more.
An imbalance in your Hormones can affect you in many ways…
HORMONES AND DISEASE
Severe hormone imbalance can lead to diseases and conditions you probably don’t realize have anything to do with any of the hormones themselves.
Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, allergies, heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and much more, all have links to improper hormone function or imbalanced hormone levels.
Often the underlying cause of many chronic illnesses may be a hormonal imbalance. Balancing our hormones can lead to enhanced health!
HORMONES AND AGING
Hormones are also very much linked to the aging process. What we have learned is that starting around the age of 30 our hormone levels start to drop, and by the time we hit 40 the effects of depleted hormones can for some of us be quite severe. It can be hard both physically and mentally, and it can sneak up on you over the years until one day you just don’t feel like yourself anymore.
When you go for a hormone test, the report will have all of these lab markers to look at closely. Their highs and lows are super-important to consider.
A recent patient in my Westchester NY office came to me with complaints of weight gain, poor sleep, night sweats, hot flashes, and irritability. She said ‘I can’t seem to live in my body anymore. I am so irritable and want to lash out at everyone. My poor husband and children seem to be getting the worst of it. It makes me feel even more horrible about myself.” After working with her for a few months, we were able to determine the imbalances in her hormones through in-depth assessments, serum, and saliva testing. Improved results were achieved through diet, natural supplementation such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs in support of her hormones. After just a few months her symptoms were minimized, she was sleeping better and experiencing fewer night sweats, and reduced hot flashes. She said she felt much happier and fortunately, her family was happier too!
YOUR BODY HAS DIFFERENT KIND OF ESTROGENS (Estradiol, Estrone, Estriol)
Estradiol is the most potent of the three natural estrogens, which also include estrone and estriol. Estrogens play important roles in stimulating the growth of the reproductive tissues, maintaining healthy bones, increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, and helping keep the cardiovascular system healthy.
LOW ESTRADIOL is common in postmenopausal women or in women of any age who have had their ovaries surgically removed and/or those who have not been treated with hormone replacement. Symptoms and conditions commonly associated with estrogen deficiency include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, foggy thinking, vaginal dryness, incontinence, thinning skin, bone loss, and heart palpitations.
HIGH ESTRADIOL in premenopausal women is usually caused by excessive production of androgens (testosterone and DHEA) by the ovaries and adrenal glands, which are converted to estrogens by the ‘aromatase’ enzyme found in adipose (fat) tissue. Excess estrogen levels, especially in combination with low progesterone, may lead to the symptoms of “estrogen dominance,” including: mood swings, irritability, anxiety, water retention, fibrocystic breasts, weight gain in the hips, bleeding changes (due to overgrowth of the uterine lining and uterine fibroids) and thyroid deficiency. Estradiol, even at normal, premenopausal levels, can cause estrogen dominance symptoms if not balanced by adequate progesterone.
Progesterone is manufactured in the ovaries at about 10- 30 mg of progesterone each day during the latter half of the menstrual cycle (luteal phase). Younger women with regular cycles generally make adequate progesterone and have fewer symptoms of estrogen excess. Progesterone is important in normal menstrual cycles, breast development, maintaining pregnancy, relaxing blood vessels and influencing neurotransmitters in the brain.
LOW PROGESTERONE in premenopausal women is more commonly seen with anovulatory cycles, (no ovulation) or use of contraceptives containing synthetic progestins. A lower level of progesterone is more common in postmenopausal women who no longer ovulate, who have had their ovaries removed, or use synthetic progestins in contraceptives.
HIGH PROGESTERONE in normal premenopausal and post-menopausal women can occur with improper supplementation and/or sluggish metabolism. Symptoms of high progesterone are relatively benign and include excessive sleepiness, dizziness, bloating susceptibility to yeast infections, and functional estrogen deficiency (more problematic when estradiol levels are low-low normal).
Testosterone is an anabolic hormone produced predominately by the ovaries in women and the testes in men, and to a lesser extent in the adrenal glands. It is essential for creating energy, maintaining optimal brain function (memory), regulating the immune system, and building and maintaining the integrity of structural tissues such as skin, muscles, and bone.
LOW TESTOSTERONE is most commonly caused by aging, removal of the ovaries or testes, suppression of ovarian and testicular production by stress hormones (cortisol), use of contraceptives and synthetic HRT, and/or damage to the ovaries, testes and adrenal glands by trauma, medications, or radiation therapies. Chronically low testosterone can cause loss of bone and/or muscle mass, erectile dysfunction, thinning skin, vaginal dryness, low libido, incontinence, fatigue, aches and pains, depression, and memory lapses.
HIGH TESTOSTERONE is usually the result of excessive production by the ovaries, testes and adrenal glands or supplementation with androgens (testosterone, DHEA). High testosterone in premenopausal women is associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which in turn is caused by insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome. Symptoms include loss of scalp hair, increased body, and facial hair, acne, and oily skin.
DHEA is a testosterone precursor shown to have direct effects on the immune system independent of testosterone. DHEA and its sulfated form, DHEAS, are produced predominately by the adrenal glands. Youthful levels are at the high end of the range; levels decrease with age and are usually at the lower end of normal in healthy middle-aged individuals. Low DHEAS can be caused by adrenal exhaustion and is commonly seen in accelerated aging and diseases such as cancer. High DHEAS is associated with insulin resistance/PCOS.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stressors, both daily (waking up, low blood sugar) and unusual (emotional upset, infections, injury, surgery). Cortisol levels are highest in the morning, and then drop steadily throughout the day to their lowest point during sleep. Cortisol is essential for regulating and mobilizing the immune system against infections and reducing inflammation. It helps to mobilize glucose, the primary energy source for the brain and maintains normal blood sugar levels. Stress and persistently elevated cortisol levels can contribute to premature aging and chronic illness.
LOW CORTISOL, particularly if low throughout the day indicates adrenal exhaustion, caused by some form of a stressor, i.e., emotional stress, sleep deprivation, poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, physical or chemical (chemo, radiation) or synthetic glucocorticoid medications that suppress cortisol production. Chronic stress depletes cortisol and is associated with symptoms of fatigue, allergies (immune dysfunction), chemical sensitivity, cold body temperature, and sugar cravings.
HIGH CORTISOL suggests some form of adrenal stress, supplementation with topical hydrocortisone or use of corticosteroid medication. Heightened cortisol production by the adrenal glands is a normal response to routine stress. When stress is chronic and cortisol output remains high over a prolonged period (months/years), the breakdown of normal tissues (muscle wasting, thinning of the skin, bone loss) and immune suppression can result. Common symptoms of chronic high cortisol include sleep disturbances, fatigue, depression, weight gain in the waist, anxiety.
The role of hormones in the human body can be confusing and deciphering each one and what they do is an important part of how I have helped many of my patients to achieve optimal health. Anyone experiencing hormonal imbalances should consider working with a health care provider knowledgeable in this area.
Ready to find out more about your hormones and how to balance them? Stay posted for updates on this topic through my blog posts and my website.