Hormones are involved in almost every function of the body, from reproduction, to metabolism, to digestion, to hair growth. Women’s hormonal systems are more complex than men’s, so it takes a skillful eye to determine what is out of balance, and the best course of action to establish synergy and homeostasis in the body.
Too often doctors have used an overly simplistic approach to try to address women’s hormones, and have used harmful, synthetic substances to take the place of our natural hormones. Even natural or bio-identical hormone replacement can cause issues in many women. A better approach is to first find out what’s out of balance and WHY, and then customize a plan to help restore balance in the most natural way possible.
Below are four warning signs that your hormones are out of whack, as well as recommended tests to help you and your doctor figure out how to get you back in synch.
1. Your Energy and Motivation Are On the Floor
An imbalance in virtually any one of your hormones can lead to fatigue and loss of motivation. The most common one we think of is low thyroid hormone. However, hyperthyroidism or autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Disease) can lead to debilitating fatigue as well. Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common thyroid disorder in the United States, and frequently goes undiagnosed or mistreated.
Low OR high cortisol levels can cause fatigue and sleeplessness, and surges in insulin or insulin resistance can lead to fatigue after meals, waking at odd hours of the night, and can affect fuel delivery to the brain, which can lead to brain fog.
Progesterone is another hormone that can cause fatigue if it is out of balance with estrogen. Estrogen dips can cause tiredness as well, and testosterone that is too low, even in women, can leave you feeling like a weakened shell of yourself.
It’s important to have all these hormones tested, test blood sugar levels and check for anemia to find out where the fatigue is truly coming from. In addition, it can be helpful to look at the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, as these are all intimately involved in motivation, energy, and metabolism.
2. Your Moods Have You On A Roller Coaster Ride and You Want To Get Off
If you find that you are not handling stress well —happy one minute but crying the next, feel like a different (worse) version of yourself, and like everything and everyone is on your last nerve, these are all warning signs that your hormones are out of whack.
This could be due to adrenal gland fatigue, where your cortisol levels are simply not able to keep up with the continuous stress you have been under. Cortisol levels become erratic and you find you can’t handle the stresses of every day life like you used to.
Or it could be due to your sex hormones being out of balance. This is usually most noticeable before your period (yes, PMS is a real medical condition). In some women this can be severe, and is known as PMDD: premenstrual dysphoric disorder. With PMDD the mood swings before your menstrual cycle can be severe and debilitating. Symptoms can include anxiety, depression and physical pain such as joint and muscle pain as well.
Irregular cycles are another warning sign that your mood swings are hormone-related, as is heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle.
Women may also start to notice mood swings when they reach perimenopause, a time in women’s lives when our sex hormones are decreasing, and more stress is put on the adrenal glands to pick up the slack.
All of the sex hormones should be tested, along with adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA. In addition, it can be helpful to look at the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, as they are both involved in mood stability.
3. You Can’t Lose the Weight
You’ve tried all the diets, you’re being consistent with your workouts, but the weight is still not coming off. This is a warning sign that your hormones could be out of balance.
When this is happening it’s very important to do a FULL thyroid panel. This means having not only your TSH checked, but also free T4, free T3, Reverse T3 , and T3 uptake. I also strongly recommend testing thyroid antibodies, because, as stated above, autoimmune thyroiditis (where your immune system attacks your own thyroid) is the number one cause of thyroid problems in the United States. Effectively treating this condition is vastly different than treating a thyroid that is simply underworking.
Checking adrenal gland hormones cortisol and DHEA is important as well. The best way to do this is with a saliva test. The adrenal glands and thyroid gland work hand-in-hand with one another (which is why the symptoms of dysfunction in either one look very similar). Usually when one is faltering, the other is in trouble too.
I also recommend looking at blood sugar levels and insulin, liver and kidney function, inflammation markers, and other aspects of the immune system that can cause weight to hang on.
4. Sex is the Last Thing on Your Mind.
There are many reasons why women can experience a drop in sex drive and desire, but hormone imbalance has to be at the top of the list of things to consider. After all, doctors estimate that up to 70% of our libido is hormonally mediated.
Low testosterone, or an imbalance between the estrogens and testosterone in a woman’s body, can put your libido on the floor. Progesterone levels that are either too low or too high can also be a culprit.
One commonly overlooked hormone connection to look at is how the adrenal glands interplay with the sex hormones. It makes sense that when you are chronically stressed, sex is literally the last thing on your mind. Your body is trying to save energy and resources for what it considers life-saving functions, and sexual desire and activity many times just don’t make the cut. Testing the adrenal hormones in addition to sex hormones is an important step to take to get your healthy sexual desire back.
Side effects of medications are another common contributor to low libido. So you have to ask: if your medication is causing this effect, what else is it doing to your brain, body and other hormones? It can’t hurt to have a conversation with your doctor about other options or alternatives.
If you answered YES to any one of these four warning signs, you should have your hormones tested. Contact Dr. Engelbart today to schedule a consultation to discuss exactly what testing would be right for you. It’s time to get your hormones back in line. It’s time to experience Your Top Life!