Signs of Hormone Imbalance

Signs of Hormone Imbalance

Let’s chat hormones, shall we? 

Hormones play a key role in balancing much of the body and keeping organs running as they should.  They are important in growth and health.  And they are important to nutrient utilization in the body.

Hormones are tricky though. While I do specialize in helping women balance their hormones for health and weight loss, it’s certainly not one of the more fun things I do.  I love helping women regain their health and feel empowered to take charge and live again.  BUT…

Hormones hurt my brain.  I’m just being honest here. 

We have over 50 hormones in the body and trying to balance these suckers is trickier then bathing a 6-legged cat.

Because there are over 50…we are going to just focus on a few in this blog. 

  • Pregnenolone
  • Cortisol
  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone

We’ll chat about their function, what causes them to get out of balance, symptoms of hormonal imbalance, and some things you can do to get those bad boys back on track.

Just to show you how complex they are, here's a fun diagram.

Hormone Pathways
Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is often called the grandmother hormone.  The reason for this is pregnenolone is the precursor to our primary sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone).  Like all other hormones, pregnenolone production will decrease with age. 

We need cholesterol to create pregnenolone.  For more information on the importance of cholesterol, check out my in-depth cholesterol blog here.  Pregnenolone is synthesized primarily in the liver and adrenal glands, but it can be found in a few other organs in the body.

Because pregnenolone is the grandmother hormone, some practitioners will go straight to supplementing with pregnenolone before supplementing with individual hormones.  Usually they do this for a few reasons: 1) it may help balance all hormones, and 2) it’s an easy box checker to see if symptoms relate to hormone imbalance.  I prefer to do hormone testing first and then repair hormones as needed.  If one specific hormone is low, that could be methylation pathways are disrupted or your body is not creating enough…I want to know these things so the underlying issue can be repaired.

Symptoms of low pregnenolone:
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Reduced mental function
  • Reduced mental awareness
  • Joint and/or muscle pain

Source:  https://imcwc.com/html5-blank/pregnenolone-fact-sheet/

Progesterone

Next down the chain from pregnenolone comes progesterone and something called DHEA.  DHEA breaks off into estrogen and testosterone…more on this later.  Pregnenolone creates the pathway for progesterone to be produced and released by the ovaries.  This is essentially the pregnancy hormone.

Progesterone is at its highest just after ovulation and before menstruation. Progesterone helps prepare the uterus for a fertilized egg implantation.  If fertilization doesn’t happen, progesterone is lowered and menstruation begins.  If fertilization does happen, progesterone remains high inhibiting the menstrual cycle.  This is an oversimplified explanation of the process.  I’m doing that because we are focusing more on symptoms and balance versus how they work.  But having a little background is always helpful 🙂 

When we have reduced progesterone, we will get symptoms of estrogen excess. We’ll talk about those in the estrogen section of this blog.  Just like some of our other hormones, progesterone decreases as we age.  And yes, guys…you also have some progesterone.

What causes low progesterone:
  • Stress
  • Excess exercise
Symptoms of low progesterone (sometimes tied to actually too high estrogen):
  • Sleep disturbances leading to fatigue issues
  • Water retention
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Low libido
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • Mood changes (depression, anxiety, etc)
  • Acne

Source 1 and 2

Cortisol aka The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is the bane of my existence…mainly because I’m a high stress person so it causes health issues for me.  I see cortisol regulation issues a lot with my clients.  Why?  Because we live in high stress times and we have more pressure to perform today than ever before.

Cortisol is downstream from progesterone and is released from the adrenal glands.  We produce cortisol in times of stress…both good and bad.  Got a work email that ticked you off?  Your body just released cortisol.  Go for a run?  Your body released cortisol.

Here’s the thing about cortisol.  Similar to insulin, when we produce it too much, the body tends to become numb to it.  We then become fatigued because we are over stressed.  A few things happen at this point: 1) pregnenolone steal, and 2) HPA axis dysregulation.

Pregnenolone steal isn’t something that is well explained within the scientific community meaning we know it happens but that’s about it.  If you recall, pregnenolone is at the top of the hormone chain and feeds into progesterone and DHEA, which makes estrogen and testosterone.  When we are in a state where we are constantly producing cortisol, we need a lot of hormones to do this.  The body steals progesterone to make more cortisol.  When we need more, we steal DHEA to make more cortisol.  This results in low estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone but high cortisol.  Overtime, we end up with HPA axis dysregulation (basically the body doesn’t know how to keep up anymore). 

Another downside to excess cortisol production is the liver.  We process all hormones in the liver and excess cortisol production over time can lead to fatty liver.  So, stress can contribute to liver problems.

Symptoms of excess cortisol:
  • Weight gain
  • Inability to lose weight
  • Mood swings
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor sleep
  • Lowered immune function
  • Low libido
  • Hypertension
  • Blood sugar dysregulation

Source 1 and 2  

Estrogen

The next two hormones stem from DHEA downstream from pregnenolone.  Often, you’ll hear or read about estrogen dominance.  Sometimes we actually have low progesterone which creates the feeling that we have too much estrogen.  And sometimes we have too much estrogen. 

Like every other hormone, estrogen production decreases with age.  And again, guys you also have estrogen in your body.  Estrogen is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and adipose tissue.  The higher the weight, the more likely you may be over producing estrogen. 

Estrogen use is pretty wide in the body.  We use it in the brain, bones, organs, etc.  We also have good and bad estrogens.  Bad estrogen typically leads to estrogen dominant cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer. 

What causes excess estrogen:
  • Low progesterone
  • Excess weight
  • Poor liver function
What causes low estrogen:
  • Menopause
  • Excess exercise
  • Stress
  • Low body weight
Symptoms of excess estrogen:
  • Weight gain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Hair loss
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Irregular cycles
  • Bloat

Source

Symptoms of low estrogen:
  • Painful intercourse
  • Increased UTIs
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Menstrual irregularities

Source

Are you seeing a pattern in symptoms yet?

Testosterone

Testosterone is produced in the ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands (noticing a trend with the adrenals?).  Known as the male hormone, it actually plays a pretty important role in women’s health as well.  Testosterone helps prevent cardiovascular disease, maintain adequate bone density, and helps maintain muscle tone.

Testosterone is also downstream from DHEA.  So, if cortisol is high and you’re in a state of pregnenolone steal, testosterone will be low.  For women, a good indication is lack of muscle tone and exercise intolerance.

Symptoms of low T (both the same in men and women):
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of muscle tone
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of bone mass
  • Increased body fat
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of libido

Source

Symptoms of excess T in women:
  • Excess facial or body hair
  • Acne
  • Loss of hair on the head
  • Changes to shape of the body
  • Oily skin
  • Voice hoarseness

Source

Symptoms of excess T in men:
  • Swollen prostate
  • Acne
  • Oily skin
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased testicle size
  • Water retention

Source

Phew…that was a lot!

Now, please know this is a super oversimplification of how these hormones function.  Many of these pathways can work in reverse and sideways.  See…brain hurts!

When I have clients that have hormone imbalance symptoms, I really like to test if they don’t already have testing available.  I use DUTCH testing in my office with my clients.  I find urinary metabolites to be more accurate than serum or saliva.  Urinary metabolites show how your body is actually using the hormones versus just the levels.  Your levels could be good but if a pathway is not functioning, your body won’t utilize the hormone properly. 

There are many reasons our hormones go haywire, but aside from age, I see a few prevailing causes:
  • Impaired liver function
  • Stress
  • Excess weight 

I really like to hit the stress reduction piece with my clients.  We can’t always remove the stress but we can do our best to manage the stress by working on healthy sleep patterns, proper exercise (not excessive), and meditation/belly breathing.  I also like to use adapotgenic herbs and hormone therapy supplements such as pregnenolone or DHEA (with testing first). 

I also like to do some liver work.  Supporting the livers natural pathways by promoting bile production through the use of bitter foods and targeted nutrients to support Phase I and Phase II of the liver detox pathways.  Here's a quick look at what targeting the liver looks like:

Liver Detox Pathways

And weight loss.  But that will come once the other two issues are addressed.

That’s a wrap.  Hormones are super tricky and I encourage you to never try balancing your hormones on your own, unless it’s through weight loss or weight gain.  If you suspect hormone imbalance, speak with your physician or a qualified clinician that can conduct hormone testing and help you get back on track.

Now, do you suspect you have hormone imbalances?

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Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS

I'm Sunny! I'm a board-certified clinical nutritionist with an MS in Clinical Nutrition. I help individuals reduce fatigue, eliminate bloat, and lose weight by healing the digestive tract and balancing hormones. I provide individual and group nutrition consultations nationwide. Join my closed Facebook group today! https://www.facebook.com/groups/140571826548289/

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