by guest blogger Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS
At this very moment, there are various hormones at play in your body working together to determine things like your energy, mood, menstrual cycle, temperature, fat-burning or fat-storage abilities, sex drive and much more.
While hormone imbalances can affect both women and men, women tend to battle hormonal disorders more frequently--including PCOS, hyper or hypothyroidism, PMS and menopausal problems that affect millions of women every year. Up to 20 percent of middle-aged women are now believed to have PCOS, for example, and thyroid disorders are estimated to affect about 1 in 8 women during their lifetime.
What causes these common types of hormonal imbalances?
If a hormone-related disorder runs in your family, then you may be at a higher risk for developing one yourself. But genetics are certainly not all there is to the story: your diet, weight, environmental exposures, exercise routine, sleep quality and stress levels all greatly factor into the hormone-equation. Factors that are now being linked to hormonal imbalances include toxicity (from things like heavy metals and endocrine disruptors), nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health, fatigue and chronic stress.
What's scary is that experts believe millions of men and women have no idea that they're suffering from a hormonal imbalance--and therefore sometimes remain without an explanation for years regarding what's causing their persistent symptoms.
Here are 5 signs you might be someone who's struggling with a hidden hormone imbalance:
1. You experience intense PMS symptoms and very painful periods.
You might assume PMS is "normal," but intense symptoms can represent imbalances including Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which affects millions of women in their reproductive years. PMDD is a chronic disorder that's caused by abnormal levels of many hormones, including beta-endorphins, and is tied to heightened sensitivity to pain, intense anxiety, backaches and migraines. Irritability, fatigue, cramping, bloating and cravings can also be signs of hypothyroidism.
2. You're getting sick more often.
Frequently catching colds, dealing with infections or experiencing other signs of low immunity might be tied to adrenal fatigue or hypothyroidism. Experts believe that up to 90 percent of all people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto's, an autoimmune hypothyroid condition whereby the immune system attacks the body's own thyroid tissue. Autoimmune disorders put the immune system on high alert and make you more susceptible to inflammatory responses and many illnesses.
3. You're waking up in the middle of the night.
When cortisol, serotonin and/or adrenalin levels are altered, sleep is often disturbed. Insomnia, feeling "wired but tired," or waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep can all point to hyperthyroidism, adrenal fatigue or other issues tied to unresolved chronic stress. Estrogen is important for sleep too, which is why menopause, PMDD, PCOS, and even pregnancy can sometimes cause nighttime wakefulness.
4. You keep lashing out at others.
Adrenaline and cortisol are the two major players related to our stress response, and when they run either too low or too high you might feel on edge, extra cranky and tired. Heightened cortisol can be due to things like chronic stress, overworking and overtraining, under-sleeping, fasting, infection and traumatic events.
Irritability can also point to changes in insulin levels or reproductive hormones, since a balance of estrogen, testosterone and others help stabilize your mood. If you've been under a lot of stress, sometimes your body will get the signal that there's a lack of raw materials available (such as amino acids that help neurotransmitters to work) to make both sex hormones and stress hormones, so when a choice must be made the body chooses stress hormones and might produce less estrogen, progesterone and testosterone as a result.
5. You're craving sugar.
Increased cravings for sugary foods and refined carbohydrates can be a sign of fatigue, heightened cortisol levels or blood sugar fluctuations. Some of the culprits include PMS/PMDD, diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypothalamic amenorrhea (also called female athlete triad) or even depression caused from a chemical imbalance. In the case of PMS/PMDD, estrogen and progesterone deficiency may be driving sugar cravings, and in men testosterone deficiency can cause an amped up appetite for carbs.
If you're showing signs of a hormone imbalance, you may want to consider consulting with a functional doctor, naturopath or nutritionist to help get to the root cause of your hormone imbalance--and start healing it.
Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates one of the world's largest natural health websites at DrAxe.com, and his newest book, Eat Dirt, gives readers a five-step plan to heal leaky gut once and for all.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com