Hormonal Imbalance in women: common signs and symptomsAug 28, 2023
Women and those assigned female at birth, experience hormonal fluctuations within their monthly menstrual cycles and across their reproductive lifespan. Hormones are chemical messengers produced by endocrine glands that travel through the bloodstream to target tissues, where they regulate numerous physiological processes and maintain balance in the body.
There are 4 primary female hormones the fluctuate during the menstrual cycle:
Estradiol: This is the most potent and prevalent form of oestrogen. It plays a significant role in the menstrual cycle, regulating the growth of the uterine lining, and supporting the development of secondary sexual characteristics like breast development and body fat distribution.
Progesterone prepares the uterine lining for pregnancy and helps maintain pregnancy. It is secreted by the corpus luteum after ovulation and, if pregnancy occurs, by the placenta. It also affects mood and can cause drowsiness.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH):
LH is produced by the pituitary gland and triggers ovulation. A surge in LH levels mid-cycle causes the mature follicle to release an egg from the ovary.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH):
Like LH, FSH is produced by the pituitary gland. It stimulates the growth and development of follicles in the ovaries, each containing an egg.
Imbalance of these hormones can occur for various reasons including:
• Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can lead to hormone imbalances. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause imbalances in female reproductive hormones.
• Stress: Prolonged or chronic stress can impact the production and regulation of hormones like cortisol, affecting the body's stress response and overall hormonal balance.
• Aging: As we age, hormone production and regulation can change, leading to imbalances. Menopause and andropause (male menopause) are examples of age-related hormonal shifts.
• Diet and Lifestyle: Poor diet, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy lifestyle choices can contribute to hormone imbalances. For example, chronic undereating can suppress hypothalamic function, down regulating the production of sex hormones.
• Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins in the environment, known as endocrine disruptors, can interfere with hormone production and regulation.
• Genetics: Some hormone imbalances may be inherited or have a genetic component.
It’s important to note that fluctuations of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle is normal. These hormonal changes can contribute to the various symptoms including PMS. Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalances can manifest in various ways and can affect different systems in the body.
Here are some common signs and symptoms that might indicate a hormonal imbalance:
◦ Irregular periods (too frequent, too infrequent, or unpredictable cycles)
◦ Heavy or light menstrual flow
◦ Absent periods (amenorrhea) without pregnancy
◦ Mood swings
◦ Anxiety or irritability
◦ Depression or feelings of sadness
◦ Fatigue and low energy levels
◦ Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Changes in Skin and Hair:
◦ Acne, especially along the jawline and chin (often associated with increased androgens)
◦ Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) or hair loss (alopecia)
◦ Skin changes like dryness, oiliness, or changes in texture
◦ Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
◦ Changes in appetite and food cravings
◦ Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
◦ Changes in sleep patterns
◦ Digestive problems like bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea
◦ Hot flashes or night sweats (common during menopause)
Changes in Libido:
◦ Decreased sex drive (low libido) or changes in sexual function
Changes in Body Composition:
◦ Changes in fat distribution, such as increased abdominal fat (associated with hormonal changes)
◦ Decreased bone density, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis
◦ Memory problems or difficulty concentrating
Reproductive Health Issues:
◦ Infertility or difficulty conceiving
◦ Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms, such as irregular periods, acne, and hirsutism
◦ Breast tenderness, swelling, or changes in size
While hormonal fluctuations are a normal physiological occurrence during a menstrual cycle, the associated symptoms can have a significant impact on quality of life. Hormonal imbalances like those seen in women with PCOS and other hormonal disorders may benefit from dietary and lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms and reduce the associated symptoms. You can learn more about the stages of your cycle here
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