When it comes to hormonal changes, women get the most attention. But hormones have a profound effect on the health of women and men.
In fact, these important chemical messengers, which constantly send instructions from one part of the body to another, may be at the root of mysterious and frequently undiagnosed health problems such as fatigue, insomnia, memory loss, depression and weight gain.
Hormones always act together, much like instruments in an orchestra. That is why a hormonal imbalance—too much or too little of one or more hormones—can trip up your health in many ways.
Six key hormones that may be out of whack…*
The hormone cortisol tells the body to respond to stress—both external stresses (such as traffic jams and financial troubles) and internal stresses (such as inflammation and infections).
The danger: Progesterone (a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands as well as the ovaries and, in smaller amounts, by the testes) acts as a chemical building block for cortisol as well as estrogen and testosterone. If you are constantly under stress, you generate high levels of cortisol, depleting progesterone and, in turn, reducing the production of estrogen and testosterone. That is why effective stress management is essential to overall hormonal balance in women and men.
Common signs of imbalance: High cortisol levels can cause excess belly fat, high blood pressure, insomnia, irritability, low libido and weakened immunity. Low cortisol levels—from exhausted adrenal glands that can no longer manufacture enough of the hormone—can cause such problems as allergies, apathy and chronic fatigue.
My advice: Make stress management a priority. Simple techniques…
Insulin regulates blood sugar (glucose), telling muscle cells to burn glucose for energy and fat cells to store it for future use.
Common signs of imbalance: Carbohydrate cravings, constipation, excess belly fat, poor memory, prediabetes and diabetes indicate high insulin levels, the most widespread insulin imbalance.
My advice: Balanced glucose levels lead to balanced insulin, and diet is the best way to balance glucose.
This hormone regulates metabolism, including body temperature and heart rate.
Common signs of imbalance: Cold hands and feet, dry skin, fatigue, hair loss, slow heartbeat and/or weight gain could signal hypothyroidism, the most typical thyroid imbalance.
My advice: Reducing stress is key.
These hormones work together to regulate functions in the brain, heart and every other organ.
Common signs of imbalance: For most premenopausal women, estrogen is too high and progesterone is too low. Symptoms include bloating, breast tenderness, heavy menstrual bleeding and moodiness. High estrogen also increases risk for breast cancer. For perimenopausal and menopausal women, estrogen is usually low, and symptoms can include hot flashes, urinary incontinence and vaginal pain and dryness.
In men, low libido, increased belly fat and breast size, depression and erectile dysfunction may occur with imbalances of these hormones.
My advice: Controlling stress and following the eating habits described earlier in the insulin section are two of the best ways to balance estrogen and progesterone.
Testosterone affects sex drive and muscle mass in men and women.
What’s often overlooked: In men, low testosterone levels are linked to higher rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, prostate problems—and death from any cause.
Signs of imbalance: Fatigue, low libido, decrease in strength, erectile dysfunction, irritability, anxiety, depression, poor concentration, memory loss and weight gain.
My advice: To boost testosterone, don’t smoke or drink alcohol excessively (for men, no more than two drinks a day). Also helpful…
For women: Low testosterone can lead to weight gain and loss of sex drive. The self-care methods described above for men also work for most women. This includes no excessive drinking (for women, no more than one drink a day).
If you take a statin drug: Cholesterol is a building block of testosterone—and cholesterol-lowering statin therapy also can lower levels of the hormone.
If you’re taking a statin and have signs of testosterone imbalance, ask your doctor to test your total testosterone. If levels are 400 ng/dL or below in men, testosterone-replacement therapy should be considered. In women, a total testosterone level of 15 ng/dL or below is considered low.
*If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of a hormone imbalance, ask your doctor about getting your hormone levels tested.
**Check with your doctor before taking any of these supplements—some may interact with certain drugs.
Source: Alicia Stanton, MD, a physician who practices antiaging and integrative medicine in the Hartford, Connecticut, area. A faculty member for the Institute for Functional Medicine and the Fellowship in Anti-Aging, Regenerative & Functional Medicine, she is also coauthor, with Vera Tweed, of Hormone Harmony: How to Balance Insulin, Cortisol, Thyroid, Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone to Live Your Best Life (Healthy Life Library). www.DrAliciaStanton.com