By David I. Minkoff, M.D.
Forever Health Network Practitioner
When people think of hormones, they often link them to the female reproductive cycle. A popular view is that hormones get switched on in early teenage years, get turned off at menopause, and cause all kinds of trouble in-between.
Moody, temperamental teenage girls are frequently described as having “raging hormones.” Young women in their 20s and 30s often complain of crankiness around the time of their period — “It’s my hormones!” they say, seeking a reason for their bad temper. And we all know the story of the 50-something menopausal woman who is doing battle with hot flashes, weight gain, and mood swings. Once again, it all comes down to the dreaded hormones: It’s a female thing and it’s linked to the reproductive cycle.
But is it? And why don’t men have issues with hormones? Well, they do. Men will, in later years, experience andropause. This lesser-known phenomenon begins around age 35 for men, when, like women, they start to experience a slow and steady decrease in their dominant sex hormone (testosterone). Left unchecked, this hormonal decline can lead to physical and emotional problems.
It’s Not Just About Sex and Reproduction
What many people do not realize is that not all hormones are linked directly to sex and reproduction. The thyroid gland also produces hormones and so do the adrenal glands. These other hormones have to be in balance with the sex hormones and each needs to be balanced within itself.
Let’s take a look at all of the hormones and why keeping them in balance is so important to your health.
The Sex Hormones — Estrogen and Testosterone
In women, sex hormones naturally fluctuate throughout a lifecycle, beginning with puberty and usually ending with menopause. If hormones are out of balance, these transitions can be quite uncomfortable and may even lead to more serious hormonally related health problems. Common symptoms of hormone imbalances:
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Low libido
In men, the level of testosterone declines with advancing age. This can cause a change in the ratio of estrogen to testosterone in the body. When a man’s level of testosterone becomes so low that estrogen begins to dominate, he is entering the phase known as andropause or male menopause.
Your Metabolic Throttle — Thyroid Hormone
On a global scale, millions of people have problems with their thyroid gland, and many cases remain undiagnosed. When it functions as it should, the thyroid gland will produce hormones called T3 and T4 at a 20% to 80% ratio. An under-production of these hormones (known as hypothyroidism) will slow down the body’s metabolism.
When the thyroid produces an excess of T3 and T4, the condition is called hyperthyroidism, which speeds up the body’s metabolism. In either case, when these thyroid conditions are left untreated, they can often lead to a number of complications.
Stress Levels and the Adrenal Hormones
The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys to monitor our response to stress. When a stressful event or emotion occurs, they release adrenaline, which makes us more alert and focused, and cortisol, which converts protein to energy and causes a breakdown of glycogen, releasing simple sugars for producing energy.
These days, people are inundated with stress that doesn’t let up. And when chronic stress forces the adrenal glands to respond continually without any recovery time, two things can happen. First, the adrenal glands can overproduce cortisol, which can lead to insomnia, anxiety, and the “tired and wired” feeling. Or they can become depleted to the point that cortisol production can’t keep up with demand, which can cause fatigue, depression, fuzzy thinking, weight gain, cravings, and mood swings.
Striking the Right Balance
The interaction among the thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones plays a role in virtually every process in our body. For optimal health, proper hormone balance among the three is crucial. When your hormones are in balance, you feel good, look good, and have abundant sustainable energy.
When your hormones are out of balance, you may experience a wide range of symptoms that can affect mood and energy, and may also lead to more serious conditions like the development of uterine fibroid tumors, fibrocystic breasts, hormone-positive cancers, thyroid dysfunction or Type II diabetes, among others.
Treating Hormone Imbalance
A hormone imbalance may be a contributing factor to a health issue or issues. Numerous tests can provide a full analysis of your sex, thyroid, and adrenal hormone levels.
To measure the sex hormones, a 24-hour saliva test that gauges levels of estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and testosterone is available.
Thyroid hormones can be measured by a comprehensive thyroid profile, in the form of a blood test. The test results should give precise measurements of Free T3 and T4, and their ratios to each other, as well as other key factor indicators of thyroid health.
Adrenal hormones can also be measured by a saliva test which includes a complete adrenal (cortisol and DHEA) profile with the hormone evaluation.
If the results indicate that a patient’s hormones are out of balance, then the patient should be checked for deficiencies in essential nutrients which are required for hormone production. Many times increasing the intake of nutrients will correct the problem without the need for prescription hormones.
Other specialized tests may be able to determine that although hormone levels appear normal, hormones are not being used correctly at the cellular level. This unique hormone analysis is essential to restoring optimal function of the hormone system.