What is a hormonal imbalance in men?
Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone present in the body. Hormones, which are chemicals produced by glands in the endocrine system, play an essential role in the body. These chemicals travel through the bloodstream to deliver messages to tissues and organs. They regulate major body processes like metabolism and reproduction.
A hormonal imbalance can affect a number of bodily functions, including:
- Heart rate
- Sleep cycles
- Reproductive cycles
- Sexual function
- Growth and development
- Body temperature
Hormone levels may fluctuate over time, but symptoms of a hormone imbalance can also occur due to stress, injury, illness, poor nutrition, or a lack of exercise. This can occur at any time, but it’s more likely to occur as a person grows older.
Both men and women can experience imbalances in hormones such as growth hormones, insulin, and adrenaline. Men are more likely to experience hormonal imbalances in testosterone levels.
A drop in testosterone is also known as hypogonadism, or “male menopause.” Low testosterone can result in decreased strength, energy, stamina, and sexual function. Studies have found that low testosterone in men may increase their risk of developing coronary artery disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
Signs of hormonal imbalance in men
As hormones play a crucial role in many bodily functions, there is a broad range of symptoms that could indicate a hormonal imbalance in men. These signs can vary depending on the hormones or glands that are affected. The following are signs of hormonal imbalances in men:
Gynecomastia, or enlargement of the breast tissue, is a sign of hormonal imbalance in men. While breast tissue may become larger due to age, diet, or lifestyle, a decrease in testosterone or an increase in estrogen can also lead to its growth.
It may not be physically harmful, but gynecomastia can have an impact on self-esteem. It may also be a sign that a hormonal imbalance may be affecting other functions as well.
Loss of libido
Another sign of low testosterone or high estrogen levels is a loss of libido, or sex drive. While these changes in libido can have many root causes, a hormonal imbalance could be a factor. A low sex drive can be a psychological challenge and can strain intimate relationships.
Hormonal imbalances can also interfere with sexual performance. This can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), or difficulty having or maintaining an erection for sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction can be influenced by factors like age, depression, heart disease, stress, chronic illness, and insomnia.
Loss of muscle
While lifestyle changes can often account for losing muscle or gaining weight, changes in body composition can also be a result of a hormonal imbalance. Testosterone is responsible for building and maintaining muscle mass. If testosterone levels drop, you may notice muscle atrophy (a loss of mass) or weight gain.
Other hormones are also associated with weight changes. High levels of cortisol, your “fight-or-flight” hormone, can interfere with metabolism and suppress your body’s natural production of testosterone, leading to muscle loss. Thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can also lower your metabolism and lead to weight gain.
In addition to physical symptoms, another sign of hormonal imbalance is a change in mood. Low testosterone levels may lead to decreased motivation, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Thyroid disorders can also lead to mood changes.
Causes of hormonal imbalance
Everyone experiences a natural fluctuation or imbalance in hormones over time. However, it can also be a result of the endocrine glands malfunctioning. The endocrine system is responsible for producing, storing, and releasing hormones into the bloodstream.
Other causes of hormonal imbalance can include:
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Poor nutrition
- Steroid medications
- Pituitary tumors
- Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of cortisol)
- Addison’s disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone)
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol)
- Allergic reactions
Diagnosing hormonal imbalance
There is a wide range of tests available for doctors to diagnose a hormonal imbalance, including:
You can also use an at-home test kit. These kits use saliva, blood, or urine to measure cortisol levels, thyroid hormones, and sex hormones. These kits can give you an indication of whether there may be a hormonal imbalance, but a consultation with your doctor may provide more conclusive results.
Treatments for hormonal imbalance
Treatments for hormonal imbalance in men will depend on what kind of imbalance might be at the root of your symptoms. Possible treatments can include:
Testosterone therapy includes taking supplements that can reduce the symptoms of low testosterone. It’s available in different forms, including injections, gel, and a patch.
Testosterone replacement therapy has shown to have beneficial effects for older men, including increasing bone strength and density, boosting libido and sexual function, and increasing muscle strength.
Thyroid hormone therapy
If you have hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone therapy can help balance the hormone levels. The synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine, which can be taken orally or be injected, can help regulate the thyroid gland.
Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Gynecomastia: Clinical evaluation and management."
Indian Journal of Urology: "Risks of Testosterone Replacement Therapy in Men."
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: "Testosterone Supplementation Therapy for Older Men: Potential Benefits and Risks."
Medical News Today: "What to know about hormonal imbalances."
Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal: "Testosterone and the Heart."
Nature Reviews Disease Primers: "Erectile Dysfunction."
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