Hormone imbalances in your body can lead to a range of problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, sexual dysfunction, and many more. Hormone health is a fundamental part of your overall health. The good news is, your functional medicine practitioner can help you ensure that your body’s various hormones stay in balance – or shift back into balance if needed.
What Do Hormones Do?
First, let’s look at what hormones are and what they do. Hormones are essentially communicators. They tell the cells in your body how to respond. Insulin, produced in the pancreas, regulates blood sugar levels. Adrenalin, produced by the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, gives you a boost of energy when you are in a fight-or-flight situation. Serotonin controls your mood. Leptin regulates your appetite. These are just a few of the hormones you depend upon in daily living.
What Happens When Hormones Are Out Of Balance?
Because hormones are so vital to bodily function, when they are out of balance – either too much or too little of a hormone is being produced – you can face serious health issues. If you’re constantly wound up due to stress, the ongoing flood of adrenalin can lead to heart disease because your body is physically over-worked. Too much insulin can lead to insulin resistance, where your body doesn’t properly regulate blood sugar because your fat cells have stopped “listening” to and responding to increased insulin levels. This can result in obesity and diabetes.
Recognising An Imbalance
Because hormones perform such a broad range of functions, from managing your mood to controlling appetite and sugar intake, an imbalance can result in numerous symptoms:
- Low energy even after sleep. This can indicate issues with hormones released by the thyroid gland.
- Moodiness. Serotonin controls mood, so this can indicate your serotonin levels are upset – leading to you feeling equally upset.
- Salt cravings. Salt cravings have been linked to adrenal fatigue, which results from prolonged stress. In essence, your adrenal glands have flooded your system with so much adrenaline that your body can no longer respond appropriately to it.
- Sugar cravings. Sugar cravings are a classic sign of a possible hormonal imbalance, particularly in the western world where the diet is high in sugar. These cravings may result from an imbalance in blood sugar levels. Attempting to satisfy the craving causes the release of dopamine, which signals the brain that it has received a reward. This causes a cycle of craving leading to reward which reinforces the craving.
- Low sex drive. Low libido can result from hormonal changes as we age. In men, the hormone in question is testosterone. Ironically, its a reduction of this same hormone in women that can lead to decreasing sex drive.
- Water retention. In women, the hormones estrogen and progesterone have been linked to water retention and bloating, particularly during perimenopause and menopause.
Bear in mind, hormones serve a broad range of purposes, so this list is by no means complete.
Functional Medicine’s Approach To Hormone Health
Functional medicine approaches hormone health in a way that is both elegantly simple and necessarily complex. A functional medicine practitioner will not look strictly at the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. Instead, he or she takes a holistic approach. This involves looking at your entire lifestyle to see what contributes to the imbalance or imbalances you may need to address.