Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Sep 01, 2017
Last Modified Date: Sep 01, 2017
Published Date: Sep 01, 2017
Female Hormones Can Affect Your Health: Are Yours Out of Balance?
Female hormones are powerful chemical messengers that regulate the reproductive system and influence many other vital systems. When they are present in the body in the proper amounts and ratios, they work in concert with one another to promote optimal health and well-being. However, when female hormonal imbalance becomes an issue, the consequences can manifest themselves throughout the body, taking a toll on a woman's health and quality-of-life. When the condition is accurately identified and treated, the balance of female hormones can be corrected, reducing the symptoms and health risks associated with hormonal imbalance.
Estrogen and progesterone are the primary sex hormones in females. Most of the body's supply of these hormones is produced by the ovaries, although small amounts are supplied by other tissues in the body. While best known for their primary function of regulating the reproductive system, female hormones also play a role in other aspects of women's health, including cardiac function, metabolism, bone health, skin thickness and elasticity, urinary tract health, emotional health and brain function, among others.
Female Hormone Imbalance
Hormonal imbalance occurs when the amount of estrogen, progesterone or both is altered, disturbing the delicate balance between these powerful hormones. Imbalances in these vital female hormones can stem from a number of underlying causes. The most common cause is perimenopause, the transitional phase leading up to menopause, during which the production of estrogens and progesterone begin to decline. Other common causes of hormonal imbalance include pregnancy, endocrine disorders, certain drugs, especially oral contraceptives, drugs used in hormone replacement therapy and cancer medications, and lifestyle factors that include stress, overweight or obesity, poor diet, sleep deprivation and lack of exercise.
Symptoms and Potential Complications
Imbalances in female hormones can have far-ranging effects on the body, producing a variety of physical, emotional and cognitive changes. These changes can cause symptoms that may include:
- Menstrual cycle changes, including shorter or longer times between periods, and periods that are longer, shorter, heavier or lighter than normal.
- Hot flashes and night sweats.
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
- Diminished sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Irritability and mood swings
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Difficulty with concentration and/or memory, a symptom often described as “brain fog.”
- Unexplained weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, hips and thighs
- Skin changes, such as thinning, dryness and wrinkling
- Dry, brittle hair
Female hormone imbalance can increase a woman's risk of a number of diseases and health problems. Among the most serious of these is heart disease, with risk increasing as estrogen levels decrease. Women with hormonal imbalances are also at greater risk for osteoporosis, since low levels of estrogens can interfere with the absorption of calcium and other nutrients essential to the maintenance of bone health and density.
Since the symptoms of female hormone imbalance are also common signs of a number of other diseases and health conditions, women experiencing them should see a physician for a thorough physical examination. If other underlying medical conditions are ruled out, hormone level testing is the next step. Hormone levels can be measured through saliva testing and/or blood tests. Establishing an accurate diagnosis of hormone imbalance may require several tests, done at intervals, as hormone levels fluctuate throughout a woman's menstrual cycle and may change greatly from one day to another.
In most cases, female hormones balance can be improved or corrected with treatment. Often, changes in diet and lifestyle are sufficient to improve female hormonal imbalance and offer some protection against its potential health complications. Among the common changes recommended are:
- Weight control
- 30 minutes of exercise daily, including resistance and aerobic exercise.
- Dietary changes that include replacing processed, fatty and sugary foods with lean proteins, low-fat dairy and a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Eliminate tobacco consumption
Female hormonal imbalance that cannot be resolved with lifestyle changes is most commonly treated with hormone replacement therapy. Conventional HRT uses hormone drugs to normalize levels of estrogens or progesterone in the system, while bioidentical hormone replacement therapy enhances hormone levels as needed with plant-derived supplements. HRT has been associated with health risks with long-term use, so women considering this treatment should discuss risks and benefits carefully with their doctors.