An estimated 80% of women suffer from some kind of hormonal imbalance. Low estrogen and progesterone levels (female sex hormones), as well as low testosterone and thyroid hormone levels, can result in a mix of physical and mental health challenges.
While hormone fluctuations occur naturally due to transitions such as puberty, perimenopause and menopause, unhealthy lifestyle habits and environmental factors can also disrupt the delicate balance of hormones. These disruptions may cause anything from the early onset puberty to an increased pace of hormonal decline and premature aging.
Hormones act as chemical messengers that travel throughout your body to signal organs and tissues to carry out the functions they were designed for. They play a vital role in maintaining your quality of life, including optimal physical and mental health.
Various processes in the body can all be affected by hormones, including:
- Body temperature
- Reproductive cycles
- Sexual function
- Heart rate
- Growth and development
- Stress levels
Hormones and Female Development
For women, in particular, hormones play a fundamental role during puberty, the start of menstruation, pregnancy and the stop of menstruation known as menopause.
Hormone imbalances, particularly in estrogen and testosterone, may cause skin changes, mood changes, weight gain, low energy or low libido. When hormone levels decline during menopause, symptoms may include hot flashes, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, memory issues, bone loss, and urinary or vaginal discomfort.
Women can also be affected by imbalances in adrenaline, insulin, steroids and growth hormones.
Hormonal imbalances are not always a direct result of life’s naturally-occurring transitions. They can also be caused by other factors that affect the body’s endocrine system or glands. Some of the most common hormone disruptors include:
- Personal Care Products: The personal care industry in the United States is widely under-regulated. Everyday products such as shampoo, conditioner, lotions, toothpaste and cosmetics often contain known endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates. The skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ, and with many of these products being absorbed into your bloodstream, the products that you put on your skin are just as important to your health as the foods you eat.
- Foods: Many of the foods we eat, both packaged and not, contain hormone-disrupting substances. For meat and dairy products, these could come from antibiotics and growth hormones these animals are fed. Fresh produce comes with the risk of exposure to pesticides and herbicides and even wild caught fish can be contaminated with high levels of mercury and other heavy metals that disrupt hormonal balance. What your food is packaged in is just as important as what ingredients are in your food. Limit processed food consumption and shop locally when possible for free-range, organic foods.
- Kitchen Products: Most people are aware that plastic containers, including single-use food storage bags, may contain bisphenol A (BPA)–a chemical that imitates estrogen. But many people don’t realize that their non-stock, stain-resistant and water-repellent cookware likely also contains hormone disruptors. In both cases, these can be especially problematic when these products are heated causing the chemicals to leach into your food. Ceramic and cast iron cookware are healthier alternatives, as are glass food storage containers.
- Cleaning Products: Many of the chemicals found in household cleaning products can throw your hormones out of whack. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are banned in Europe because they were shown to transform male fish into females. Unfortunately, these chemicals remain a common ingredient in many of the laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners found in U.S. households.
- Drinking Water: Your drinking water may contain chemicals such as atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate, all of which may disrupt your endocrine system. Filtering your water using a high-quality water filtration system can help protect you.
Dr. Karen Clark of Chapel Hill Gynecology is a board-certified physician who specializes in the management of hormone therapy. There is no substitute for discussing your medical history, symptoms and concerns with a qualified physician, and hormone testing can help when it’s difficult to establish a clear pattern of symptoms.
For help finding the best hormonal solution for you, call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment today.