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How Hormones Can Affect Your Overall Health

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By Annette Brook

Did you know your body makes more than 50 different hormones? These powerful, complex chemical messengers created by the endocrine system glands, as well as the testes and ovaries, regulate everything from mood, development, and growth to the sleep/wake cycle, reproduction, and metabolism. Even the slightest imbalance or hormone over- or under-production can wreak major havoc on our health and quality of life.

Various things affect hormone production and balance, including prescription medications and diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome — a rare condition, and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). And, of course, a major culprit that eventually affects everyone is age, which impacts the sex hormones — estrogens (estradiol, estrone, and estriol), progesterone, and testosterone.

You’ll experience different signs and symptoms depending on your hormonal imbalance.

Symptoms and signs of hormonal imbalances that affect your metabolism include:

  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Irregular body fat distribution
  • Fatigue
  • Slow heartbeat or rapid heartbeat
  • Higher-than-normal blood cholesterol levels

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may create these and other symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy face

Signs of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) include:

  • Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Persistent tiredness, weakness
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Twitching, trembling

Sex hormone imbalance has been linked to:

  • Weight gain
  • Low libido
  • Hot flashes, night sweats
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, cognitive issues
  • Loss of muscle mass

An Ounce of Prevention

According to the Cleveland Clinic, actions to optimize your overall health could help keep your hormones balanced. These actions include:

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  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing your stress
  • Getting enough quality sleep
  • Managing chronic health conditions
  • Quitting smoking or using tobacco products 

Talk with your doctor about other lifestyle changes that promote hormonal health, such as eating whole, unprocessed foods free from additives and chemicals. Additionally, some hormone imbalances may be addressed by eating certain foods. For instance, someone with low estrogen levels may benefit from consuming foods such as soy products, chickpeas, cruciferous vegetables, cashews, alfalfa sprouts, berries, and legumes. These and other foods are estrogenic, containing higher levels of phytoestrogens called isoflavones.

You may also wish to avoid toxic substances such as BPA’s (Bisphenol A) that may affect hormone production. They can be found in plastic goods, personal-care products, fragrances, food packaging, and even tap water.

When to See a Doctor

Hormone problems cause a wide range of symptoms. See a doctor if you persistently don’t feel right, and especially if you have any symptoms of hormonal issues. Don’t be tempted to self-diagnose or use DIY treatments such as transdermal creams and oral supplements. You can do more harm than good without an accurate diagnosis and customized, measurable treatment plan.

Your primary healthcare provider is a good place to start, but it’s also wise to see an endocrinologist. These medical specialists are uniquely trained in endocrinology, a field of medicine that studies, diagnoses, and treats hormone-related conditions. Tools and tests used to diagnose endocrine problems include urine, blood, genetic, and hormone tests, as well as imaging, such as MRIs.

If you’re diagnosed with age-related sex hormone imbalance, seek a provider experienced in using traditional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and/or plant-based bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) who will regularly measure your hormone levels and adjust your treatment plan based on these and your reported results.  

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