Would you have any idea how to tell if your hormone levels are out of balance? Many women unknowingly experience various signs and symptoms of hormone imbalance, but connecting the dots back to a certain trigger can be more challenging.
Certain hormones – namely estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones – can wreak havoc on your body and lead to detrimental effects on your wellbeing. Although hormone tests are the only way to know for sure if your hormones are out of whack, the following may be an indication something is not just right.
Exhaustion is a fact of life. For one reason or another, we’ve all felt fatigued at some point in our life. However, you shouldn’t ALWAYS feel tired; if you do, it may be because your cortisol level is too high at certain times of the day. Normally, cortisol should peak in the early hours of the morning to get you ready for the day ahead and drop off throughout the day. If your cortisol level is fluctuating or peaking at the wrong time, it may lead to chronic fatigue, no matter how many zzz’s you get.
Fatigue is also one of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone levels. Thyroid hormones help regulate metabolism; low thyroid levels correlate to slower metabolism and thus the symptoms of exhaustion. Hypothyroidism exists on a continuum and you may suffer from ‘subclinical hypothyroidism.’ This condition is defined as a normal TSH level (the primary thyroid hormone measured in lab tests) and a low T4 level. Likewise, you may have a normal TSH and produce thyroid specific antibodies, a sign you may stuffer from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the primary cause of hypothyroidism.
If you just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to your weight, even if you’re exercising and eating healthy, it could be a sign that your cortisol levels are not balanced. Stress management (meditation/breathing exercises participating in activities you enjoy, ensuring proper sleep), can help balance cortisol.
Inability to lose weight can also be a sign of hypothyroidism and slow metabolism.
Do you have dry skin? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your hair is getting thinner or falling out more? Thyroid hormones are so important to global health because they serve as directors of “downstream” mechanisms. In this case, thyroid hormones control eccrine gland activity (a type of sweat gland found in most areas of the skin). If thyroid hormone levels are low, these glands will not get appropriate signaling to function properly.
Chronic stress and high cortisol levels can cause sugar and fatty food cravings, while other adrenal imbalances can lead to cravings for salty snacks. Keeping a food and mood diary can help you to pinpoint whether your cravings are really linked to mood or if you crave certain foods with no obvious link to emotional eating.
Eating a lot of sugar can spike your blood sugar and insulin levels, and this can astronomically increase your estrogen and progesterone. Conversely, sugar decreases testosterone levels. If you have noticed decreased sex drive, increased body fat, decreased muscle mass, and brain fog, your diet may be a direct contributor.
Excessive feelings of stress and anxiety do not always indicate a mental health condition. Stress can raise cortisol levels inappropriately (as part of our body’s natural fight or flight response) leading to similar symptoms as above as well as chronic anxiety and depression. Although managing stress can seem like a daunting task, there are many strategies available to help you do so.
Estrogen can trigger anxiety when levels are less than ideal. It’s rather stereotypical, but true, to relate anxiety and depression as afflictions that primarily affect women. There is yet to be an explanation for the gender difference; however, research has elucidated that estrogen fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle are highly linked to intense emotional experiences. When estrogen levels are lowest on day one of menstruation, women tend to be most vulnerable to anxiety and depression. On the flip side, there appears to be a protective benefit when estrogen levels are highest during ovulation.
Premenstrual syndrome is used to describe the variety of symptoms that women experience at a certain point in their menstrual cycle, usually right before menstruation. The exact cause of PMS is unknown, but estrogen levels are very low during this time. Low levels of estrogen and progesterone which in turn affects the amount of serotonin released in the brain.
Many women gravitate towards high fat, high carbohydrate foods that have little nutritional value during their period to cope. These foods can actually make symptoms worse; replacing some of your snacks or meals with whole grains, beans/nuts, and fatty fish may help balance estrogen levels.