What is a hormonal imbalance?
Hormones play an integral role in maintaining many of the important processes within the body. Hormones are produced and dispersed by your endocrine glands. They act as chemical messengers, which travel through the body within your bloodstream. Hormones act as an important trigger for bodily functions such as metabolism and reproduction.
Hormonal imbalance occurs when you have too much or too little of a specific hormone. Even small changes in hormone levels can critically affect your health. Because hormones play a significant role in regulating your metabolism and the way your body uses energy, hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain.
Hormone disorders that affect your hormone levels — such as Cushing’s Syndrome — can lead to significant weight gain. Hypothyroidism is another condition that disrupts hormone levels and can lead to weight gain.
Other factors such as age may lead to a hormonal imbalance that causes an increase in weight. Hormonal imbalance can interfere with healthy food cues and regulate energy levels. This can eventually lead to significant weight gain and obesity.
Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women
Your hormone levels naturally fluctuate throughout your life. Puberty, pregnancy, and aging are examples of times when hormone levels will change. However, if you are experiencing new symptoms, you may have developed an unhealthy hormonal imbalance.
Females often experience hormonal imbalances and symptoms specific to them — such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormone disorder in women. Symptoms associated with PCOS and other female-specific imbalances include:
Research shows that hormonal imbalance can have a significant impact on metabolism. This can lead to notable weight gain. For example, a common symptom of PCOS is a lack of sensitivity to insulin. Insulin regulates blood sugar, so poor insulin sensitivity can cause weight gain.
Women who experience heavy periods, missed periods, stopped periods, frequent periods, or infrequent periods may have developed a hormonal imbalance. An irregular menstrual period is one of the most common signs of hormonal imbalance in women.
Excessive hair growth
New or excessive hair growth, also called hirsutism, can occur on the face, chin, neck, or other parts of the body, often indicating hormonal imbalance. In particular, hirsutism is usually caused by an excess of male hormones called androgens.
A main indicator of hormonal imbalance is new or excessive hair loss. Hormone-related hair loss is common in women experiencing menopause. It is associated with overproduction of androgens, in which case it is sometimes called androgenic alopecia.
In women, a hormonal imbalance can result in the development of skin tags, which are benign growths on the skin's surface. Skin tags are common in women with PCOS.
Changes in cervical mucus
Throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, the amount, consistency, and texture of cervical mucus can indicate the stages of the menstrual cycle. It naturally fluctuates throughout the month, but dramatic or unusual changes in cervical mucus can be a sign that something is amiss. Most often abnormal cervical mucus indicates too little estrogen or too much progesterone.
One of the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance is infertility. Becoming pregnant depends on a complex balance of circumstances, including hormonal balance. While infertility often coincides with specific hormone imbalances — such as PCOS or thyroid disease — or with other symptoms, it can present on its own. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland both emit hormones that affect pregnancy. If they are not functioning properly, infertility is possible.
Signs and symptoms of hormonal imbalance in men
Males who experience hormonal imbalance often have a lack of testosterone. In addition to weight gain, this can result in a variety of symptoms such as:
One of the most common indicators of hormonal imbalance in males is sexual dysfunction or impotence.
Loss of muscle and bone mass
Another common indicator of an imbalance of hormones in males is a noticeable loss of muscle mass or loss of bone mass, which is known as osteoporosis.
Men who lose excessive amounts of hair — either from their hairline, beard, or body — may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance.
Men who are not producing enough testosterone can experience significant weight gain.
Several factors can cause male infertility. Though it isn’t common, sometimes a hormone imbalance is to blame. A poorly functioning pituitary might not produce enough luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which trigger the production of sperm in the testes.
Causes of hormonal imbalance
Hormonal imbalance can be the result of a variety of risk factors. Though both lifestyle and diet can contribute to hormonal imbalance, it often develops from illness.
Issues with the thyroid or adrenal glands are a very common catalyst for hormonal imbalance. Thyroid conditions can affect the production of certain hormones. Hypothyroidism, in particular, is linked to significant weight gain. The weight gain and obesity that often comes with hypothyroidism is a result of hormonal imbalance.
Other causes of hormonal imbalance include:
Diagnosing hormonal imbalance
If you are experiencing weight gain or other symptoms of hormonal imbalance, your doctor may diagnose you through a physical exam. They will likely do a blood test to analyze your hormone levels. Sometimes an imaging test, such as an ovarian ultrasound, is used to look for physical indicators of hormonal imbalance.
Your doctor may order additional tests to measure hormone levels, such as a saliva test, a serum test, or a follicle-stimulating hormone test.
Your doctor may schedule regular blood tests and follow-up appointments to monitor your hormone levels and weight control over time.
Treatments for hormonal imbalance
If you have gained weight due to hormonal imbalance, your doctor might recommend specific lifestyle changes or prescribe medication.
Treatments may include:
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Clinical Epidemiology: "Cushing's syndrome: epidemiology and developments in disease management."
Current Obesity Reports: "Food Cues and Obesity: Overpowering Hormones and Energy Balance Regulation."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Treating female pattern hair loss."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Unmasking the causes and treatments of melasma."
Hormone Health Network: "Female Infertility."
Hormone Health Network: "Male Infertility."
Hormone Health Network: "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)."
Hormone Health Network: "The Endocrine System."
Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Stress and hormones."
International Journal of General Medicine: "Relationship between thyroid dysfunction and body weight: a not so evident paradigm."
John Hopkins Medicine: "Headaches and Women: What Do Hormones Have to Do With It?"
Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: "A Review of Weight Control Strategies and Their Effects on the Regulation of Hormonal Balance."
The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging: "Effect of Lifestyle Intervention on the Hormonal Profile of Frail, Obese Older Men."
Lucas Research: "Hormonal Imbalance."
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Northwell Health: "11 unexpected signs of hormonal imbalance."
PCOS Awareness Association: "PCOS Overview."
Penn Medicine: Women's Health Blog: "Irregular Periods: Why Is My Period Late?
Polski merkuriusz lekarski: "Reproductive hormone metabolism in women with infertility due to polycystic ovary syndrome depending on the constitutional body types."
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Stanford University: "What Causes Female Infertility?"
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