One of the keys to feeling great and being optimally healthy is to have balanced hormones. I didn’t learn alot about hormonal health in medical school. I was taught that hormones aren’t usually the problem and when they are, synthetic hormones are the answer. I couldn’t disagree more.
If you are noticing changes in your weight, energy levels, skin, mood, or irregular menstrual cycles, your body is signaling to you that there is an imbalance. These changes can be sudden or more gradual, but they give you a sense that something just isn’t right. Your body communicates internally through the use of hormones which are chemical messengers that impact how our cells and organs function. They control a number of bodily functions, including our appetite, sleep, libido, and stress response.
Imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream – essentially cutting communication with the organs they deliver messages to, or sending far too many messages and mixing up signals. In some cases, even slight imbalances can cause significant changes in the body. So if you feel something is “off” with your health, know that this is not just a normal symptom you need to live with – it may be a hormone imbalance!
Sadly, conventional medicine hasn’t caught up to the integrative healthcare field when it comes to understanding the importance of balanced hormones. The good news is, once hormone imbalances are identified, they can be brought back to normal, healthy levels so that you can get back to living your healthiest and best life.
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalances
It can be difficult to tell whether symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalance, or another underlying issue. For instance, fatigue could be caused by lifestyle factors, an excess of the hormone progesterone, or an excess, or even a deficit, in the hormone cortisol. That’s why hormone testing is crucial when determining the root cause of your symptoms.
Here are some symptoms of hormonal imbalance to watch out for:
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain despite exercise and healthy diet
- Sudden weight loss despite eating the same diet and maintaining the same level of exercise
- Sleep problems such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Chronic acne, dry and brittle hair and other skin conditions
- Brain fog and difficulty concentrating
- Digestive issues
- Persistent fatigue, headaches and migraines
- In women, irregular menstrual cycles and PMS
- In men, erectile dysfunction
Common Hormone Tests
A variety of methods can be used to test hormone levels to get to the root cause of your symptoms. The test you receive will be based on your diagnostic needs.
Common hormone tests integrative practitioners perform include:
This simple test shows which hormones are freely available to the body, rather than the total amount of hormones in the bloodstream. It is particularly useful in detecting the hormone cortisol, which is linked to stress. Because just thinking about blood tests and needles can sometimes raise cortisol levels, standard blood tests can provide an inaccurate picture of the hormones’ typical role in the body. That’s why I prefer saliva testing for hormones.
Blood serum test
This test allows your practitioner to look at the concentration of hormones in the bloodstream. Blood serum tests can measure important hormones such as insulin, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and hormones connected to the thyroid.
Testing hormones through the urine requires multiple samples, because it will capture any fluctuations that occur. Your practitioner may ask you to take samples at different times of the day while you are at home, or to save all of your urine within 24 hours. Urine testing is useful in that it reveals how the body is metabolizing hormones. The DUTCH test, for example, is an excellent way to assess how the body metabolizes estrogen which can be helpful in determining cancer risk.
I’ve never used this test, but strands of hair can be used to measure the presence of the hormone cortisol. The first 1 cm of hair closest to the scalp indicates around one month of cortisol production. If you feel chronically stressed, your practitioner may suggest this test.
Hormone testing may be worth looking into if you’re concerned about imbalances.
Some hormonal imbalances can be temporary while others are chronic (long-term).
They may require treatment so that you can maintain good health and feel your best.
Conditions That Can Be Diagnosed by Hormone Testing
Hormone testing can address dozens of conditions caused by hormonal imbalance.
Some of the most common include:
Hormonal imbalance is the number one reason women have difficulty conceiving. The most common hormonal disorder in women is polycystic ovarian system (PCOS), which can lead to infertility, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and weight gain.
There are two types of thyroid disease: hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) and hyperthyroidism (high thyroid levels). Hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid) occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Over time, hypothyroidism that isn’t treated can lead to other health problems, such as high cholesterol and heart problems. Hyperthyroidism (or overactive thyroid) causes excess levels of thyroid hormones that can then speed up the body’s metabolism, trigger anxiety and unexplained or unplanned weight loss.
Irregular menstrual cycles
Many hormones play a role in the menstrual cycle, so an imbalance in any can lead to problematic periods. Most women’s periods arrive every 21-35 days. But if your periods are arriving late or not at all some months, it may be a sign of an imbalance of the hormones estrogen or progesterone. Painful and heavy periods can also be a sign of hormonal imbalance.
Hormones are involved in the amount of oil that your skin produces. Androgens or “male” hormones are responsible for this, and in excess they can cause your glands to produce too much oil, thus clogging the pores.
Should You Get Your Hormones Tested?
Since your hormones control so much, including sleep, hunger, and reproduction, it’s crucial to your health to keep them balanced. Your hormone production will naturally decrease as you age, however, an imbalance in hormones can amplify symptoms of brain fog, fatigue, and joint pain. Taking the initiative to get hormone testing, you can ensure your control center is in balance!
You are an expert in your body and your intuition guides you appropriately if you listen. I used to be way too busy and stubborn to listen, but not anymore. If you feel you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance, you’re dealing with a condition such as PCOS, or you are approaching the age of menopause, getting your hormone levels tested can be an important first step in developing a holistic treatment plan.
From there, you can work with a practitioner like me to create a treatment plan to restore your body’s balance and get your health back on track.
Thomson S, Koren G, Fraser LA, Rieder M, Friedman TC, Van Uum SH. Hair analysis provides a historical record of cortisol levels in Cushing’s syndrome. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2010 Feb;118(2):133-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1220771. Epub 2009 Jul 16. PMID: 19609841; PMCID: PMC2945912.
Dennett CC, Simon J. The role of polycystic ovary syndrome in reproductive and metabolic health: overview and approaches for treatment. Diabetes Spectr. 2015 May;28(2):116-20. doi: 10.2337/diaspect.28.2.116. PMID: 25987810; PMCID: PMC4433074.
Bae J, Park S, Kwon JW. Factors associated with menstrual cycle irregularity and menopause. BMC Womens Health. 2018 Feb 6;18(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s12905-018-0528-x. PMID: 29409520; PMCID: PMC5801702.