The topic of hormones is wide-ranging—from stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, to reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone. At least partially responsible for nearly every bodily process, hormones are secreted by glands and organs throughout the body including the thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, ovaries, testicles and pancreas. Given their enormous role in functions like reproduction, mental health, digestion and metabolism, when hormone imbalances rear their ugly head—which can happen quite frequently—it’s important to take notice quickly.
The problem is that many of us don’t realize that hormones are to blame for some of the most common health disturbances. But if you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately—you’re feeling for sluggish, irritable or weak, for example—your hormones are usually the first thing to address.
Here are five signs and symptoms you might be dealing with a hormonal imbalance:
1. Indigestion, Including Constipation
Constipation is a sign that your digestive system is under distress, but instead of just reaching for a laxative, you may need to check your fatigue and emotional stress levels. A high percentage of the serotonin (commonly called “the happy hormone”) that your body makes is actually produced inside your gut. So when trauma, exhaustion, an inflammatory diet or even just a hectic lifestyle impact serotonin levels, it also takes a toll on digestive health.
High cortisol levels and other hormone fluctuations associated with chronic stress have been linked to constipation, IBS, IBD and even GERD. Because “normal” bowel movements vary from person to person, the key is tracking your own digestive tendencies and looking for any noticeable changes in how often you go, as well as other symptoms like unusual bloating, gas and acid reflux.
2. Always Feeling Cold
Your thyroid gland is largely responsible for regulating your body temperature. Due to the effects it has on various metabolic functions, those who have hypothyroidism tend to feel unusually cold, even when others feel comfortable. In a nutshell, feeling unusually chilly is due to slowed metabolic activity and decreased burning of heat for energy. That’s because thyroid hormones play an integral role in thermogenesis, which helps maintain a normal, steady body temperature.
According to some estimates, around 12 percent of the population will develop a thyroid disorder during their lifetime or suffer from some form of low thyroid function, especially older women. The vast majority of cases (up to 90 percent) are due to an inflamed thyroid gland, a condition known as Hashimoto’s Disease. In addition to changing your body temperature and tolerance for cold, hypothyroidism can also negatively affect your mood, heart rhythms, digestion, energy, appetite and sleep. Fortunately, dietary changes, stress management and thyroid medications (when necessary) can all help.
3. Trouble Sleeping & Daytime Fatigue
If you’re frequently having trouble getting a good night’s rest, you may need to consider whether stress, over-exercising, an important life transition or your diet may be playing a role. All of these can cause increased cortisol levels, as well in decreased production of other important hormones—including estrogen, serotonin and melatonin—that impact sleep quality.
Not surprisingly, women are much more likely to report sleep problems, which is believed to be due to effects of menstrual cycles, current or recent pregnancies and (especially) declining hormones during menopause. To make matters worse, other symptoms tied to stress and hormone fluctuations—such as hot flashes, a racing heart, indigestion, sweating and sleep apnea—can make it even harder to get enough sleep.
4. Low Sex Drive
It makes sense that when your hormones fluctuate, reproductive health, fertility and your desire for intimacy also tend to suffer. Testosterone—often said to be the most important male hormone—and estrogen are two of the key players in determining your sex drive. And both hormones are produced by the adrenal glands, which can be negatively impacted by things like over-exercising, trauma or stressful events, taking birth control pills, pregnancy, menstruation and menopause.
It’s normal to not be in the mood during some parts of the month. Being tired or upset can play a role, as can menstruation, which often signals the time when a woman’s libido tends to be at its lowest. But if you’re feeling less desire than usual—and more often than not—you might want to adopt a healing diet and turn your attention to you exercise routine, work schedule and sleep.
5. Skin Issues like Acne & Dryness
Studies show that adult-onset acne is becoming increasingly common, especially in women in their 20s through 50s. It’s common today for people suffering from acne to be treated with hormonal therapies aimed at reducing high sebum (oil) levels and balancing hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Hormones play a role in skin health—including complexion, elasticity and moisture—because they partially control how clogged with oil pores will become, how the immune system reacts to the presence of bacteria on the skin, as well as how much inflammation the body experiences.
Many experts state that, regarding adult skin issues, attempting to solve them topically doesn’t work, since the root causes often involve multiple aspects of a patient’s lifestyle. Factors like high stress levels, pregnancy, a poor diet and PMS can all trigger acne breakouts or symptoms like dryness/eczema.
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*Illustration by Billur Kazaz.