Our hormones play a major role in the upkeep of our body. They act as chemical messengers that travel around our bloodstream, telling our tissues and organs what to do to ensure that our bodies function properly. Hormones can influence the function of our immune system, guide development of the brain and reproductive system, turn our food into fuel and even alter behavior.
How so? Hormones receive signals from our brain to secrete directly into the blood by the glands that produce and store them. These glands make up the endocrine system: The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and pineal gland are your brain. The thyroid and parathyroid glands are in your neck. The thymus is between your lungs, the adrenals are on top of your kidneys, and the pancreas is behind your stomach. Your ovaries (if you’re a woman) or testes (if you’re a man) are in your pelvic region.
These glands all work together to create and manage the body’s hormones. Too much or too little of a hormone (no matter how small of a change) can have major effects throughout the whole body.
While some hormone levels fluctuate naturally as the result of aging or reproductive stages such as menopause, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or birth control–-other changes may indicate signs of serious health conditions, depending on the affected glands and hormones.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance (aside from just mood swings).
Most women’s periods come every 21 to 35 days. If you find that yours isn’t arriving close to or on the same day each month, or if you’re skipping months, it may mean you aren’t producing enough (or too much) of certain hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Check with a healthcare professional as this may also be a sign of something more serious, such as PCOS.
As we enter perimenopause and menopause, our ovaries decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone. These hormonal shifts can be an unsettling experience for your body and contribute to environmental factors that may disrupt sleep.
Androgens, or male hormones, are actually produced in small amounts in women as well to be converted into estrogen. However, an influx of hormones from androgens can cause our oil glands to work overtime. Androgens can also affect the skin cells in and around the hair follicles–-both instances which can clog pores and result in acne.
A leaky gut may be a result of a hormonal imbalance, and can also trigger chronic digestive symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Increase in appetite and weight
Particularly around menopause, many women report weight gain due to changing estrogen levels. Estradiol, one form of estrogen that decreases at menopause, helps to regulate metabolism and body weight. Thus, lower levels of estradiol during stages in our lives like menopause can lead to weight gain. It doesn’t help that our digestive hormones cause us to be insatiably hungry during these times.