What Causes Hormonal Imbalance?

The term "hormonal imbalance" is very popular these days and many patients seek treatment in my clinic for this condition. These patients come in with a host of symptoms including irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, breast tenderness, mood changes, bloating, fatigue, PMS, unexplained weight gain, difficulty losing weight, stubborn belly fat, low libido, acne, and hair loss. Most people think they just need to treat their hormones when they are experiencing these symptoms, yet many of these symptoms are actually not strictly hormone related, which is why taking hormones doesn't give the best results. The key in treating hormonal imbalance is to address the reason WHY your hormones have gone out of whack.

What causes hormonal imbalance?

Hormonal imbalance is usually NOT an actual hormone problem. Many of the previously mentioned symptoms can mimic hormonal imbalance, but they may be caused by different reasons. This is why many women who have had blood hormone testing often show "normal" results yet are still experiencing these hormonal symptoms. If hormone levels are abnormal, hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed without addressing the underlying reason causing your hormones to become too high or low.


The most common causes of hormonal imbalance:

  • liver stress or fatty liver

  • adrenal fatigue

  • thyroid imbalance

  • oral contraceptives

Dumping hormones into your system will NOT solve these problems and may actually make your symptoms worse. This is why I do a comprehensive functional blood chemistry for patients experiencing hormonal imbalance symptoms. It is essential to understand the WHY and to treat the CAUSE.


Liver stress

The liver plays a huge role in hormonal imbalance. In fact, in Chinese medicine, the most popular herbal formula (Xiao yao san) used to treat symptoms of PMS, breast tenderness, anxiety and mood changes works by improving liver function. The liver is responsible for regulating the balance of sex hormones, thyroid hormones and adrenal hormones. The liver also plays a role in clearing out excess hormones in the body. So if your liver is sluggish, it cannot do its job of keeping hormones balanced and you can have a buildup of excess estrogen.


Additionally, if your liver is overburdened, it cannot do its job of detoxification. Toxins then will be stored in your fat cells, making it very difficult to lose weight no matter what you do. These excess fat cells in your body also store estrogen, leading to symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Treating the liver and addressing toxicity is essential.


Symptoms of liver stress: fatigue, mood swings, irritability, anger, depression, PMS, breast tenderness, bloating, constipation, gas, stomach pain, skin problems, dark urine, easy bruising, nausea, vomiting, pain below the ribcage


Adrenal fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is caused by long-term physical, mental or emotional stress and is very commonly seen in modern women and men. When your adrenals are exhausted, your adrenal hormones (cortisol and DHEA) become depleted. An adequate level of DHEA (the mother of all hormones) is needed to balance hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Adrenal testing will reveal your levels of cortisol and DHEA, and treatment is aimed at improving adrenal function and balancing your adrenal hormones.


Symptoms of adrenal fatigue: difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, inability to handle stress, difficulty losing weight, mid-section weight gain, tired and wired, low libido, anxiety, depression

Thyroid imbalance

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck responsible for regulating certain hormones that control your energy level, mood, metabolism and weight. Poor thyroid function may be caused by heavy metal toxicity, selenium and/or iodine deficiencies, autoimmune disease, toxins, infections, liver dysfunction and more. There are actually 9 lab markers that should be tested to rule out thyroid problems (and most doctors only test 1-3). It is important to identify and address what is stressing the thyroid and causing the symptoms of hormonal imbalance.


Symptoms of hypothyroidism: fatigue, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, constipation, depression, hair loss, dry hair, irritability, puffy face, hoarseness, numbness and tingling in hands, high cholesterol, heavy or irregular periods, muscle aches, brain fog


Oral contraceptives

The synthetic hormones in birth control pills/shots are a major cause of hormonal imbalance in women. In fact, many women seeking treatment for irregular periods and/or infertility have a history of long-term use of oral contraceptives. This is because medroxy-progesterone acetate or progestin (the synthetic progesterone found in birth control) actually shuts down your body’s naturally ability to make progesterone, which can continue to happen even when you stop taking birth control. Progesterone is needed to make other hormones, so when it is low, other hormones become imbalanced as well.


Side effects of oral contraceptives: spotting between periods, breast tenderness, nausea, weight gain, mood changes, irregular periods, headaches, migraines, low libido, vaginal discharge or vaginal dryness


There are many other causes of hormonal imbalance including chronic infections and exposure to xenoestrogens and toxins, so it is always beneficial to have a comprehensive blood chemistry run by a functional medicine physician in order to identify the source(s) of your hormonal symptoms. If you fall into any of these categories mentioned above, we are happy to help! We use a unique combination of functional medicine, acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine to get your hormones back in balance and identify root causes.


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