Causes of Female Hormonal Imbalances
What are hormones?
Hormones control all the body’s functions. They are like a remote control system, where levels go up or down in the blood, to control the activity of the body’s systems. Organs that produce hormones are called glands. They are all over the body, but the glands most relevant to women are:
- Thyroid (makes thyroid hormone, for energy and metabolic rate)
- Ovaries (make estrogen and progesterone, for reproduction)
- Adrenal glands (make stress hormones and androgen)
- Pancreas (making insulin, controls glucose in the blood)
- Stomach (makes ghrelin, the appetite hormone)
- Pituitary gland (makes other hormones that control other glands from the brain)
- Mammary gland (makes prolactin, for milk production)
Do I have a hormone imbalance?
There are different kinds of hormone imbalances, and they have different effects. The most common types are imbalances in estrogen and progesterone, which control the menstrual cycle. The levels of these fluctuate naturally every month. But sometimes they can vary between women, resulting in issues like irregular menstruation. Factors like biological genotypes, age, stress, diet, and environment can all play a role in these imbalances as well. However, the body does its best to maintain a general hormone balance throughout the life stages.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women
In younger females, irregularities (spikes or drops) in the ovary’s hormone levels causes Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). This is associated with problems like cramps, bloating, mood swings, stress, and cravings. Some women also have thyroid imbalances, that may cause a change in energy levels, leading to tiredness or mood change. About 1 in 10 women may also have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), where the body produces too much insulin and androgen. These women have problems such as acne, obesity, irregular menstrual cycles, and problems having a baby.
During pregnancy, increases in estrogen and progesterone happen naturally and are related to cravings and nausea in some women, while some women have changes in insulin that may affect blood pressure and energy levels. In older women, the ovary’s hormones go up and down for about a year (perimenopause) and then go down completely when the cycle eventually stops (menopause). Symptoms of menopause are like PMS, but also include hot flushes, sweats, and sleep problems. Other linked pathways can also be affected, too, unfortunately (including the vascular system) .
Food for hormonal imbalances
Support for symptoms caused by imbalances due to dietary issues may be found through better nutrition, nutrient supplementation, and lifestyle choices. The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia lists a number of diet and lifestyle-based recommendations for improving symptoms of hormonal imbalances; however, as stated on the website, many of the options on this list still require further research before being clinically proven for therapeutic use. So, the focus of this article will revolve around the options that are more broadly agreed upon within peer-reviewed publications.
Supplements for hormonal imbalance
Table 1 below outlines specific vitamins for hormonal imbalance, as well as other specific dietary and lifestyle choices that might help. Appropriate intake of calcium, zinc, iodine, vitamin D, and of omega-3 fatty acids, whilst also maintaining good exercise and sleep patterns, allows the body to subdue the symptoms of hormonal imbalances. On top of this, avoiding high-calorie diets and smoking could also decrease the risk of symptoms of hormonal imbalances occurring.
Table 1: Factors involved in hormonal imbalances
|Dietary or Lifestyle Component||Acting upon symptoms of PMS or Menopause?||Impact||References|
|Calcium||PMS||Low levels in blood exacerbate symptoms of PMS; Supplementation of calcium (to restore levels) may decrease symptoms of PMS.||[2, 3]|
|Menopause||Lowered estrogen level leads to bone loss; hence, supplementation of calcium may decrease risk of osteoporosis; maintaining appropriate levels of calcium can decrease risk of early menopause.||[4, 5]|
|Zinc||PMS||Maintaining high levels of zinc lowers risk of PMS; supplementation of zinc alleviates symptoms of PMS.||[6, 7]|
|Menopause||Zinc deficiency associated with increase in pre- & post-menopausal genitourinary symptoms; formulations containing zinc may improve symptoms of such conditions.||[8, 9]|
|Iodine||PMS||Menstrual irregularity associated with iodine deficiency; increased rates of iodine deficiency found in women of reproductive age.||[10, 11]|
|Menopause||Improved dietary iodine intake may decrease risk of post-menopausal metabolic disorders; iodine deficiency linked to post-menopausal osteoporosis.||[12, 13]|
|Vitamin D||PMS||Low levels in blood exacerbate symptoms of PMS; Supplementation of vitamin D (to restore levels) decreases symptoms of PMS.||[3, 14]|
|Menopause||Levels of vitamin D and associated proteins may be associated with the age of menopause.||[4, 15]|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||PMS||Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may decrease severity of symptoms associated with PMS.||[16, 17]|
|Menopause||Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may decrease risk of night sweats and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women.||[18, 19]|
|Exercise||PMS||Aerobic exercise & yoga may aid in decreasing severity of symptoms associated with PMS.||[20, 21]|
|Menopause||General exercise may decrease severity of symptoms associated with early menopause.||[22, 23]|
|Diet||PMS||Poor diet (such as high calorie/fat/sugar/salt) may be a risk factor towards symptoms of PMS.||[24, 25]|
|Menopause||Diets predisposing to obesity may influence onset of menopause; Mediterranean diet may decrease severity of symptoms associated with menopause.||[26, 27]|
|Smoking||PMS||Identified as strong risk factor towards PMS symptoms.||[24, 28]|
|Menopause||Consistently associated with early menopause.||[29, 30]|
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