Hormonal imbalances occur when there is too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. Because of their essential role in the body, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by glands in the endocrine system. Hormones travel through the bloodstream to the tissues and organs, delivering messages that tell the organs what to do and when to do it.
Hormones are important for regulating most major bodily processes, so a hormonal imbalance can affect a wide range of bodily functions. Hormones help to regulate:
Metabolism and appetite
Reproductive cycles and sexual function
General growth and development
Mood and stress levels
Men and women alike can be affected by imbalances in insulin, steroids, growth hormones, and adrenaline.
Women may also experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, while men are more likely to experience imbalances in testosterone levels.
Everyone experiences periods of hormonal imbalance at certain points in their life, but these can also occur when the endocrine glands are not functioning properly.
The symptoms of a hormonal imbalance depend on which glands and hormones are affected.
Symptoms associated with the more common causes of hormonal imbalances include:
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
Unexplained or excessive sweating
Changes in sensitivity to cold and heat
Very dry skin or skin rashes
Changes in blood pressure
Changes in heart rate
Brittle or weak bones
Changes in blood sugar concentration
Irritability and anxiety
Unexplained and long-term fatigue
Needing to go to the bathroom more or less than usual
Changes in appetite
Reduced sex drive
Thinning, brittle hair
A bulge in the neck
Deepening of the voice in females
Everyone will experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance or fluctuations at particular points in their life.
But hormonal imbalances can also occur when the endocrine glands are not functioning properly.
Endocrine glands are specialized cells that produce, store, and release hormones into the blood. There are several endocrine glands located throughout the body that control different organs, including the:
Gonads (testis and ovaries)
Thyroid and parathyroid glands
Several medical conditions are known to impact some, or several, of the endocrine glands. Certain lifestyle habits and environmental factors may also play a role in hormonal imbalances.
Causes of hormonal imbalances include:
Chronic or extreme stress
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
Hyperglycemia (overproduction of glucagon)
Hypoglycemia (more insulin produced than there is glucose in the blood)
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
Over- or underproduction of the parathyroid hormone
Poor diet and nutrition
Hormonal replacement or birth control medications
Abuse of anabolic steroid medications
Solitary thyroid nodules
Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of the hormone cortisol)
Addison’s disease (low levels of cortisol and aldosterone)
Benign tumors and cysts (fluid-filled sacks) that affect the endocrine glands
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low levels of cortisol)
Endocrine gland injury
Severe allergic reactions or infections
Cancers that involve endocrine glands
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Iodine deficiency (goiters)
Turner syndrome (females with only one functioning X chromosome)
phytoestrogens, naturally-occurring plant estrogens found in soy products
exposure to toxins, pollutants, and endocrine disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides
Hormonal imbalances in women
Women experience several periods of hormonal change in their lifetime, primarily during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
Women naturally experience several periods of hormonal imbalance throughout their lifetime, including during:
Pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding
Perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
Women are also at risk of developing different types of hormonal imbalance disorders than men because They have different endocrine organs and cycles.
Medical conditions causing irregular hormonal imbalances in women include:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Hormone replacement or birth control medications
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
Heavy, irregular, or painful periods
Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
Hot flashes and night sweats
Constipation and diarrhea
Acne during or just before menstruation
Uterine bleeding not associated with menstruation
Increased hair growth on the face, neck, chest, or back
Thinning hair or hair loss
Skin tags or abnormal growths
Deepening of the voice
Hormonal imbalances in men
Men also experience natural periods of hormonal imbalance during their lifetime.
Natural causes of hormonal imbalances in men include:
Men are also at risk of developing different hormonal imbalances than women because they have different endocrine organs and cycles.
Medical conditions causing hormonal imbalances in men include:
Hypogonadism (low testosterone)
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in men include:
Reduced sex drive
Erectile dysfunction (ED)
Low sperm count
Reduced muscle mass
Reduced body hair growth
Overdevelopment of breast tissue