An estimated 80% of women suffer from some kind of hormone imbalance. Low estrogen and progesterone levels (female sex hormones) and 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 of puberty to an increased pace of hormonal decline and premature aging. Hormone imbalance can happen faster than you expect.
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 are vital in maintaining your quality of life, including optimal physical and mental health, so preventing hormone imbalance is important.
Various processes in the body can all be affected by hormones and hormone imbalance, including:
- Body temperature
- Reproductive cycles
- Sexual function
- Heart rate
- Growth and development
- Stress levels
Hormones and Female Development
For women, hormones play a fundamental role during puberty, the start of menstruation, pregnancy, and the stop of menstruation, known as menopause.
Hormone imbalance, 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 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. These meat and dairy products could come from antibiotics and growth hormones these animals are fed. Fresh produce comes with the risk of exposure to pesticides and herbicides. 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 for free-range, organic foods when possible.
- Kitchen Products: Most people know 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 contain 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 chemicals in household cleaning products can cause hormone imbalance. 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 specializing in hormone therapy management, especially regarding hormone imbalance. There is no substitute for discussing your medical history, symptoms, and concerns with a qualified physician; hormone testing can help establish a clear pattern of symptoms when it’s difficult.
For help finding the best hormonal solution for you, call (919) 960-2720 to schedule an appointment today.