Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on August 11, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
If you’ve heard the phrase “hormonal imbalance” but aren’t quite sure how it’s related to the body’s overall health, this article is for you. Here, you’ll find an answer to the question “What is hormonal imbalance?” Plus, we’ll highlight various hormonal issues that can affect your health, a few causes of hormone imbalances, related health conditions, and more—so read on. (To check in on your own hormone levels from the comfort of home, try the Everlywell at-home Women’s Hormone Test.)
Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by various glands in the endocrine system. They help regulate many key body functions and processes—from sleep-wake cycles and metabolism to weight and menstrual cycles, to your body’s stress response and temperature.
A hormonal imbalance occurs when normal levels and the production of hormones in your endocrine system are disrupted. When your hormone levels aren’t balanced, you may experience several unpleasant symptoms as a result. Fortunately, many hormone imbalances can be resolved with treatment strategies like hormone therapy.
Hormone imbalance symptoms may include:
The endocrine system is composed of different glands that secrete necessary hormones to communicate key signals throughout the body. The endocrine system is composed of the thyroid gland, the pituitary gland, the adrenal gland, hypothalamus, pineal body, pancreas, ovaries (for women), and testes (for men). Though there are dozens of hormone types in the human body, here we’ll highlight just a few to help give a sense of the wide-ranging effects hormones have on human health.
The hormone insulin tells your body how to use energy from the foods you eat by helping blood sugar move from the bloodstream into our cells. Some people, however, are insulin resistant—due to factors like physical activity levels or diet or family history. Insulin resistance means that the body’s cells can’t properly respond to insulin, leading to a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream. This can lead to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Regular physical activity and a diet rich in nutritious foods may help reduce insulin resistance.
Leptin and ghrelin help with appetite control. An increase in leptin will decrease your appetite, while an increase in ghrelin will increase your appetite. People experiencing obesity often develop a leptin resistance, potentially leading to overeating.
Your thyroid hormones help control your metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and many other bodily functions. Thyroid hormones come from the thyroid gland, which is the gland that produces triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). If your thyroid hormone levels are too low, you may have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), possibly leading to weight gain, fatigue, and other symptoms. An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), on the other hand, can result in sudden weight loss, loss of bone and muscle mass, excessive sweating, and more.
Estrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones that play key roles in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy—and thus affect fertility. As women approach menopause, progesterone and estrogen levels change significantly—which is often accompanied by hormonal imbalance symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain, and mood changes. In some cases, hormone replacement therapy may be recommended to help manage the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance in women.
The pituitary gland secretes the growth hormone somatotropin, which aids in maintaining healthy tissues in the body's major organs. It's also the hormone that helps heal injuries and repair muscle tissues.
Many women experience a sex hormone imbalance or hormonal disorder at some point in life—but why is this the case? Fluctuations in hormones can happen naturally due to factors like perimenopause and menopause. They can also be brought on by stress, lack of sleep, dietary choices, certain behaviors (like smoking), and more. Here we’ll discuss the effect that diet, stress, and certain chemicals can have on hormones.
When it comes to hormonal imbalance in women, diet often plays a major role. For instance, the body produces insulin, a hormone that tells your cells how to use energy (in the form of glucose) from the foods we eat. When one’s diet consists largely of high-calorie, processed foods with minimal nutritional value, insulin resistance can develop—which means the body’s cells don’t properly respond to this particular hormone. Insulin resistance is a significant risk factor for prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other severe health conditions.
Hormone balance is also important when it comes to levels of leptin and ghrelin—hormones that affect your appetite. When leptin levels increase, your appetite decreases—while an increase in ghrelin will stimulate your appetite.
The right dietary choices can, in some cases, help prevent hormonal imbalance in women. Here are some tips to consider to help make sure your diet supports a healthy hormone balance:
We’ve all felt stressed at some point, but long-term, chronic stress can significantly disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. Chronic stress leads to constantly elevated cortisol levels, the “stress hormone” that’s released by our adrenal gland during stressful situations. When cortisol levels are continually high, the body’s sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, and other hormone-regulated processes can be thrown off balance—not only resulting in unpleasant symptoms (like fatigue) but also increasing one’s risk of severe health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Here are some thought-starters for decreasing stress in your daily life:
Over long periods of time, lack of sleep can contribute to serious health conditions and can lead to a hormone imbalance. Sleep affects your stress hormones, and when you don’t get enough of it, your body’s ability to regulate those hormones can be affected—potentially leading to high blood pressure and other negative health outcomes.
Ensuring that you get enough quality sleep can also help maintain hormones that control your appetite and blood glucose levels. Poor sleeping patterns have been linked to hypertension, obesity, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your sleep, consider trying these habits for healthy sleep:
Learn how your cortisol levels change over a 24-hour period with our at-home cortisol test.
Certain chemicals—both synthetic and natural—known as endocrine disruptors can interfere with endocrine function and upset the body’s hormone balance. Endocrine disruptors do this by mimicking natural hormones in the body, which effectively “confuses” the body’s normal hormone signals and changes hormone production levels. Arsenic—a heavy metal that often contaminates groundwater—is one example of an endocrine disruptor: chronic exposure to it can interfere with metabolism, heightening the risk of diabetes and other conditions. Endocrine disruptors can be found in many everyday items, including some kinds of makeup and skin creams—as well as certain plastics and cleaning products.
Changes in hormone levels due to hormonal imbalances can potentially lead to several different health conditions, including the following.
A common cause of infertility in women of reproductive age.
Estimates from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists suggest that close to 1 in 20 people in the United States have an undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction.
This is related to the levels and production of cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
Diabetes is related to the hormone insulin.
Finding out what a hormonal imbalance is can be a great first step toward understanding how your hormones are connected to your overall health and well-being. Take it one step further by checking in on your own hormone levels from the comfort of home with one of our at-home hormone tests. If you’re wondering how to check for a hormone balance, the following tests may help:
Each of these hormone tests is easy to take at home—with clear instructions and simple sample collection—and you can conveniently view your easy-to-understand test results on our secure, online platform.
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