What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers generated by the endocrine glands in our body. Hormones play an essential role in delivering messages to the tissues and organs via the bloodstream. They help regulate major bodily functions, so even small hormonal imbalances can result in drastic side effects throughout the body and alter various bodily processes.
Hormones are responsible for:
- Stimulating growth and metabolism
- Regulating blood sugar concentration
- Sleeping and waking cycles
- Regulating body temperature
- Regulating levels of water and electrolytes in our body
- Developing sexual characteristics and maintaining reproductive cycles
- Regulating mood and stress levels
- Maintaining heart rate and blood pressure
Below are examples of some vital hormones and their specific functions:
- Immune functions
- Water and electrolytes regulation
- Sexual characteristics
- Help in the growth of an individual
- Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring
Hormone imbalances affect both males and females. However, certain hormones have specific functions in either the male or the female body. For example, estrogen is a female reproductive hormone that assists in developing secondary sexual characteristics, such as:
- Growth of body hair
- Breast development
- Flaring of the hips
- Less time required for bone maturation
It is further responsible for:
- Endometrial regrowth
- Calcium absorption in the body
Progesterone, another hormone of the female reproductive system, is responsible for:
- Preparing the endometrium for pregnancy after ovulation
- Preventing other eggs from maturing
- Preventing lactation until birth
- Strengthening muscles in preparation for labor
On the other hand, testosterone is a male reproductive hormone responsible for the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as:
- Hoarseness of voice
- Growth of facial and body hair
- Enlargement of the larynx (Adam's Apple)
- Increase in body mass and stature
What causes hormonal disruption?
Most people experience natural periods of hormonal imbalances or fluctuations at a particular point in their life. These fluctuations can be physiological or caused by certain disorders of the endocrine glands, which are specialized cells that produce and release hormones in the bloodstream.
Some of the causes of hormonal imbalances are:
- Unhealthy diet and malnutrition
- Smoking and consumption of alcohol
- Insufficient sleep
- Extreme stress
- Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding in females
- Exposure to harmful toxins
- Thyroid problem
- Abuse of steroids or other medications
- Infections or allergic reactions
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Cysts and tumors of the endocrine glands
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
When to get it checked?
Symptoms faced due to hormonal imbalances include:
- Muscle pain, stiffness, and tenderness
- Hirsutism, which is increased facial hair on different parts of the body
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Puffy face
- Blurred vision
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Mood swings
- Irritability and anxiety
- Night sweats
- Dry skin
- Intolerance to heat and cold
Different ways to balance your hormones
- Make sure to take the stairs instead of an elevator
- Set an alarm on your mobile phone to get up every 30 minutes and walk
- Walk while talking on your phone
- Indulge in household chores
- Park your car a distance away from where you need to go
At times we underestimate just how wonderful walking is for our overall health. Brisk walking is a super low impact way to help get your blood pumping and is excellent for the mind to function properly.
Yoga can be very beneficial for our body. It helps in strengthening our body, improving flexibility, reducing stress, and enhancing our mood. It is said to be one of the most effective anti-aging practices.
Pilates, similar to yoga, is another hormone balancing workout that also happens to reduce stress and build strength and stability.
- High-intensity interval training
This kind of workout is more effective in burning fat and is responsible for regulating human growth hormone levels required to induce growth. It also improves insulin sensitivity. Practicing high-intensity interval training can improve strength and keep your hormone levels in check.
Cortisol and adrenaline are two hormones that are affected by stress. Chronic stress can increase cortisol levels in the blood, which can lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity. Therefore, it is essential to manage stress by meditating, listening to soothing music, or getting a massage.
Insufficient sleep has been linked to imbalances of many hormones, such as insulin, cortisol, and growth hormone. Aim for at least seven hours of high-quality sleep per night to maintain optimal hormonal levels in the body.
Make sure to decrease sugar and carbs in your diet. This will help increase insulin sensitivity. Healthy natural fats should be consumed instead of unhealthy trans fats to control appetite. Frequent use of green tea has been credited with several health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce levels of stress hormones in our body.
How to diagnose hormonal imbalances?
Various types of tests can be performed to diagnose a hormonal imbalance. But before that, you need to describe your symptoms and the timeline along which they've occurred.
Your health care provider will ask for a detailed history that will put him in the right direction.
Some of the common questions asked are:
- How long have you been facing these symptoms?
- Are there any aggravating or relieving factors?
- Have you experienced random weight gain or weight loss?
- Are you more stressed than usual?
- Do you have trouble getting an erection?
- Do you have vaginal dryness?
A blood test can be done to check thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol levels in your bloodstream.
An ultrasound can be performed to diagnose any visible pathology in the uterus, ovaries, testicles, pituitary glands, and the thyroid gland.
Additional tests include thyroid scan, X-ray, MRI, biopsy, and sperm count.
The treatment depends on which hormone is unbalanced as well as the underlying cause of the imbalance. Hormone therapy is usually the treatment of choice, and you need to consult your physician before starting any kind of therapy.