Medically reviewed

How to handle a hormone imbalance

MAY 25, 2021

From regular periods to our skin having that golden hour glow, when our hormones are harmonious–it shows. But what happens when things get a little off balance? Read on to learn everything you need to know about hormone imbalances, from spotting symptoms to getting your body back in-sync

Key Takeaways

  • Throughout our lives, our hormones are constantly fluctuating in delicate codependent systems

  • Hormone imbalances are very, very common–affecting up to 80% of women and people with cycles at some point in our lives 

  • The causes of hormone imbalance can be influenced by many different things including hormonal birth control

  • Symptoms are complex and often hard to diagnose but there are common red flags we can watch out for

  • By understanding our unique patterns and health we can get back in tune with our bodies and enjoy harmonious hormones, once again.

Let’s be honest, our hormones get a bad rep. 

Yes, it’s true–we’ve got them to thank when we’re keeled over with cramps or when we’re having yet another break-out. 

But all too often we forget that when the going's good, our hormones are the holy grail of health. 

They help us to walk, talk, grow, eat, even sleep. They give us that spring in our step, make us look and feel fabulous and they’ve got our backs–telling us to get up and at 'em when we can, and to scale it back when we’re about to hit burnout. 

All in all, they’re pretty awesome–phenomenal in fact. But, just like us, every now and then our hormones can get a little off balance...

Hormone imbalances are extremely common and can cause (and be the cause of) many, also very common, health conditions. Because the symptoms of hormone imbalance in women and people with cycles are complex, it’s often difficult to distinguish which hormones are causing us problems and which treatments are right for us. 

But, fear not–we’re here to help. So, let’s get to it...

What exactly is a hormone imbalance?

If our hormones were people, they’d be the kind you’d look at and ask, ‘I just don’t know how they do it?

Ever-changing, never settling, and certainly never slacking–our hormones are constantly on the move throughout our lives. Fluctuating month to month, year to year, and even sometimes (like cortisol) every day. 

Although hormone fluctuations happen in all sexes(1,2), it’s us folxs with cycles that experience the biggest ebbs and flows. 

Eminent opposites, estrogen and progesterone fluctuate in a distinct (and ever so delicate) pattern each month–regulating our cycles and inducing our periods.

In each of us, this pattern is personal. My pattern is different from yours, which is different from everyone else's. We are all totally, terrifically unique. 

But it’s when this pattern gets out of whack that the problems start. 

Hormone imbalances occur when we start producing too much of one hormone (known as hyper-function), or not enough of another (hypo-function)(3). These are both extremely common but can cause an array of unpleasant side-effects that range from the subtle to the extreme.

What are the causes of hormonal imbalance?

Okay, but why do our patterns get out of whack?  

Our hormones are hard workers but they’re also extremely sensitive souls. Changes to our lifestyle, aging, birth control, our mental health and certain health conditions can all disrupt our delicate hormones, leaving us feeling the effects. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes:

Puberty

As we’ve already mentioned, a delicate double act of estrogen and progesterone controls our monthly menstrual cycles. But during the first 4 or so years of menstruation, as our bodies get used to ovulating (releasing eggs each month), it’s common to have estrogen dominance(4). This is because progesterone is only produced when we ovulate(5). So, if we aren’t ovulating on the reg, we will likely have excess estrogen hanging around–causing those symptoms which we all know allll too well–painful periods, PMS, bloating, breast tenderness and mood swings(6).

Perimenopause

At the other end, when we reach perimenopause (the transition toward menopause), basically, our hormones go haywire. Our bodies start slowing ovulation down, preparing to retire our reproductive systems(7). Huge swings of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone bring about a wealth of symptoms including (but certainly not limited to) hot flushes, irregular periods, mood swings and weight gain(8).

Hormonal birth control

If we’re taking hormonal birth control that isn’t right for our bodies, it can throw our hormones off course and bring on a slew of nasty side effects. This is complex because not everyone has the same baseline of natural hormones to begin with(9) (those ever unique patterns) so hormonal birth control can hit us all differently(10). But the good news is, we can get birth control personalized to our unique patterns which can improve our symptoms and get our hormones harmonious once again. 

Lifestyle factors

Ah, our age-old acquaintance–stress. The true super-villain of the 21st century, stress leaves no stone unturned when bulldozing through our bodies. The hormone cortisol, better known as the ‘stress hormone’, spikes when our bodies feel under threat(11).  Unfortunately in our ‘always-on' society, our bodies feel threatened a lot. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol from prolonged periods of stress can suppress our sex hormones and leave us languishing in symptoms like irregular or stopped periods(12).

Underlying health conditions

Sometimes, complex underlying health conditions can be to blame for hormonal imbalances. Conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) are thought to have a hormonal cause(13). Again, this can be complex and you should always seek further medical advice if you think you may be suffering from PCOS or a more serious health condition.

What are the main symptoms of hormone imbalance?

So, we’ve covered the causes–but what about the symptoms?

Complex and often overlapping, anything from extra hair growth to headaches can be a symptom of a hormone imbalance.

Deciphering our symptoms and trying to figure out ‘what’s normal’ can often feel overwhelming. So, we’ve put together this (definitely not exhaustive) chart of some common symptoms and their potential causes. 

Misconceptions and misdiagnoses

If any of this so far has been ringing true for you, and you think you might be suffering from a hormone imbalance,  remember–you are definitely not alone. A recent survey of 2000 American women found that nearly half of them were experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance. 

But despite being so common, hormone imbalances are often misdiagnosed. Symptoms can often range from subtle to extreme and many doctors simply don't take them seriously–dismissing them as nuances. 

What’s more, many of us just accept these symptoms as being a part of life, and simply put up with them.  Perhaps we have always had them and think they are just ‘normal’ for us?

In reality, no one should suffer in silence with any form of discomfort. You should always feel valued and supported by any medical professional you engage with–your pain, opinions and experiences are always important. 

It’s important to get the right diagnosis, so you can figure out the best hormone imbalance treatment for you. This is a highly personal and unique journey, which brings us to our next point…

Harnessing your hormones: Getting back in tune 

The first step toward taking control of your hormone health and reducing any hormone imbalance symptoms you might be experiencing is to figure out exactly what your unique patterns are. 

This might sound daunting but our team at Tuune can support you to do exactly that. 

By building a unique picture of your health, we can decipher your unique hormone patterns and can advise you on which treatments will work for you, your body and your goals. 

Hormone imbalances don’t need to be the (sometimes literal) headache we think they are. 

Understanding your unique pattern can help you get the diagnosis you deserve, gain control over your symptoms so you can be at your best–every day.


References
  1. Ankarberg C, Norjavaara E. Diurnal rhythm of testosterone secretion before and throughout puberty in healthy girls: correlation with 17beta-estradiol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Mar;84(3):975–84.

  2. Brambilla DJ, Matsumoto AM, Araujo AB, McKinlay JB. The effect of diurnal variation on clinical measurement of serum testosterone and other sex hormone levels in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Mar;94(3):907–13.

  3. Capen CC, Martin SL. Mechanisms that lead to disease of the endocrine system in animals. Toxicol Pathol. 1989;17(2):234–49.

  4. Steiner M, Dunn E, Born L. Hormones and mood: from menarche to menopause and beyond. J Affect Disord. 2003 Mar;74(1):67–83.

  5. Khan-Dawood FS, Goldsmith LT, Weiss G, Dawood MY. Human corpus luteum secretion of relaxin, oxytocin, and progesterone. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1989 Mar;68(3):627–31.

  6. Patel S, Homaei A, Raju AB, Meher BR. Estrogen: The necessary evil for human health, and ways to tame it. Biomed Pharmacother Biomedecine Pharmacother. 2018 Jun;102:403–11.

  7. O’Connor KA, Ferrell R, Brindle E, Trumble B, Shofer J, Holman DJ, et al. Progesterone and ovulation across stages of the transition to menopause. Menopause N Y N. 2009;16(6):1178–87.

  8. Peacock K, Ketvertis KM. Menopause. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 [cited 2021 May 25]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507826/

  9. Harden KP, Klump KL. Introduction to the Special Issue on Gene-Hormone Interplay. Behav Genet. 2015 May;45(3):263–7.

  10. Lazorwitz A, Aquilante CL, Oreschak K, Sheeder J, Guiahi M, Teal S. Influence of Genetic Variants on Steady-State Etonogestrel Concentrations Among Contraceptive Implant Users. Obstet Gynecol. 2019 Apr;133(4):783–94.

  11. Thau L, Gandhi J, Sharma S. Physiology, Cortisol. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 [cited 2021 May 25]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/

  12. Fourman LT, Fazeli PK. Neuroendocrine Causes of Amenorrhea—An Update. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Mar;100(3):812–24.

  13. Rodriguez Paris V, Bertoldo MJ. The Mechanism of Androgen Actions in PCOS Etiology. Med Sci [Internet]. 2019 Aug 28 [cited 2021 May 25];7(9). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6780983/


Written by
Annalisa Hayes (she/her)

Copywriter at Tuune, Annalisa has worked for various pioneering health-tech startups and healthcare companies with purpose-led missions. Driven by empowering people to take control of their health, she helps make the science behind hormones accessible for our community, so they can make clued-up choices about their healthcare.


Medically reviewed by
Dr. Arushee Prasad, GP, MBBS (she/her)

Dr Arushee Prasad is a GP for NHS England with an MBBS in Medicine and Surgery, and an MRCGP from the Royal College of General Practitioners. Passionate about digital health and algorithmic medicine, Arushee was previously an Algorithmic Medical Doctor for Docly.


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