The human body is a collection of parts—the sensory organs, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, even the skin, and hair. Within each system, every organ plays a crucial part, and if one part stops function, the whole system can fail. It is common knowledge, then, that the brain plays an unbelievably important role in the body. Without it acting as the central control system, our bodies would not function properly. But what most people do not realize is that the brain is not the only important regulatory force in the body. The endocrine system plays just as crucial a role as the brain.
For those who need a quick refresher in anatomy, the endocrine system is responsible for producing and distributing hormones throughout the body. Whereas the neurons in the brain fire electrical impulses throughout the body, hormones act as chemical signals that tell systems and their organs what to do, when to do it, and for how long to do it. Therefore, if hormone levels are imbalanced, you can experience a wide range of symptoms. Getting your hormone levels back to a balanced state requires hormone therapy and can take several trips to the doctor.
If you believe you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance or are just interested in learning more about hormone therapy, this article is for you. We will look at the signs and symptoms of hormone imbalances in both men and women, the long- and short-term benefits of hormone therapy, and how optimizing hormone levels can help you achieve a happier and healthier life. We hope to not only inform but also guide you to make the best possible medical decisions.
Sign and Symptoms of Hormone Imbalances
The term “hormone” comprises a wide range of different chemical signals within the body. Counter to common knowledge, men and women generally have the same types of hormones. The only difference is that men have more of certain hormones, and women have more of others. Therefore, imbalances in certain hormones will affect the two sexes differently. To fully understand the symptoms, let’s break them into male and female-specific. Understand, though, that some hormones are quite similar between both men and women.
Generally, when we speak of women’s hormones, we mean estrogen and progesterone. In women, these two hormones are responsible for ovulation and sexual development. As a girl enters puberty, her body begins producing estrogen and progesterone, leading to the development of external sexual characteristics and the preparation and release of an ovum. As women age, their bodies may stop producing estrogen and progesterone in as high of a quantity as in their youth. This can cause severe mood swings, hot flashes, thinning in the urethra that can cause UTIs, weight gain, fatigue, headaches, and missed periods.
On the other hand, when we speak about male hormones, we normally mean testosterone. Like estrogen and progesterone, testosterone is a sex hormone responsible for creating male external sexual characteristics. However, scientists and doctors believe testosterone is also responsible for regulating bone density, fat distribution, muscle mass, and the production of red blood and sperm cells. Men with low testosterone will experience a decrease in muscle mass, a loss of body and facial hair, depression and mood swings, fatigue, and weight gain.
Now, as mentioned above, men and women have the same hormones, i.e. men produce estrogen and women produce testosterone. The difference is that the two hormones interact differently in the two sexes. Women with low testosterone will experience a similar loss of muscle mass and weight gain; if their levels are too high, they can experience skin problems, hair loss, a deeper voice, and irregular periods. For men who experience estrogen imbalances, they may develop breasts, retain water, develop stomach fat, and experience depression or mood swings.
If you have experienced any of the noted symptoms, we recommend talking to your doctor about your hormone levels. The human body uses many other hormones to transmit signals throughout the body, but to go through each hormone exhaustively would require far more detail than can be provided here. Just note those common symptoms of a hormonal imbalance: fatigue, moodiness, and sudden weight change.
Benefits of Optimizing Hormone Levels
Starting hormone therapy is the first step to optimizing your hormone levels. Your levels do not have to be completely out of balance to see the benefits of this therapy. These benefits are not only short term but also have long-lasting, positive effects that will benefit you throughout life. With optimized hormone levels, you will age more gracefully and feel younger longer.
Some of the short-term effects include:
- More energy to get you through the day
- Healthier looking skin and hair
- Increased muscle mass
- Faster metabolism
- A decrease in stomach fat
- Higher sex drive
More impressive than that, though, are the long-term benefits of optimized hormone levels. A growing number of scientific studies have explored how optimized hormone levels can reduce the risk of heart disease and prostate cancer, lower cholesterol and body fat, and even potentially reverse the effects of diabetes. In these following sections, we are going to break down some of this research and show you why hormone therapy could add years to your life.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Hormone therapy has long been used in pre- and post-menopausal women for decades. Before menopause, women have lower rates of heart disease than men but, as they age and lose estrogen, their risk of heart disease increases. To resolve questions of why this happens, researchers have been studying estrogen closely to determine how it affects women’s health.
According to the findings of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, there seems to be a timing effect related to estrogen and broader hormone therapies. If hormone levels can be optimized just before the onset of menopause, the risks associated with heart disease often can be mitigated. They also recommend that women over the age of 65 not discontinue hormone treatments, as they can benefit their health greatly.
Furthermore, recent studies have gone so far as to disprove once held beliefs that testosterone therapies among men can increase the risk of heart disease. Research published in the International Journal of Practice examined a group of 1,000 men who had received therapy and found no increased risk of heart disease and, actually, a possible decrease.
Reduced Risk of Prostate Cancer
Testosterone therapy can benefit men beyond just potentially lowering their risk for heart disease. As hormone therapy has been used to treat symptoms of menopause, testosterone therapy has long been used as a method of fighting prostate cancer.
For men with overly high levels of testosterone, they run the risk of developing prostate cancer. This is because, as a male sex hormone, testosterone plays a role in the development of prostate tissue. If cancerous cells form within the prostate, high testosterone will continue to feed the cells, causing them to grow larger and larger. Optimizing men’s testosterone levels lowers their risk of this happening and can also help prevent other prostate-related issues.
Beyond the risks of cancer, men of a certain age often suffer from enlarged prostates. This is also due to the effects of testosterone on the sex organs. Though an enlarged prostate may not pose a life-threatening risk, it does cause discomfort and difficulties going to the bathroom. By optimizing testosterone levels through hormone therapy, as men age, they no longer have to worry about dealing with a troublesome prostate.
Reversing the Effects of Diabetes
This benefit sounds almost too good to be true, but a growing number of studies have shown that hormone therapy can be highly effective as a diabetes treatment, especially among post-menopausal women. If you search the American Diabetes Association’s website, you will quickly find study after study discussing how hormone therapy helped women with diabetes reverse the effects of their disease and improve their overall outcome.
One study published by the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Diabetes Registry examined how hormone therapies affect the bodies of women with type 2 diabetes ability to process sugar. After testing a group of over 15,000 women, they found that there were significant links between hormone therapy and the reduction of glucose (sugar) within the blood. This is direct evidence that hormone therapy can help diabetics process sugar.
Researchers believe that this is so because estrogen hormones target the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin. However, estrogen is not the only hormone related to the pancreas or insulin production. There are two other hormones, one that directs the pancreas to produce insulin and one that directs it to reabsorb insulin. If these hormones are imbalanced, insulin production will not proceed properly, leading to the onset of diabetes. If these hormones can be rebalanced, the effects of diabetes can be slowed or even reversed.
Lower Cholesterol and Body Fat
Considering that a common symptom among all hormonal imbalances is weight gain, it makes sense that hormone therapy can lead to long term reductions in body fat and cholesterol. But before examining how hormone therapy affects cholesterol levels, it’s important to understand a little about this often feared substance.
Cholesterol is not a single thing; in fact, it comes in two types—high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. In layman’s terms, HDL cholesterol is thought of as “good” cholesterol for its ability to help the body eliminate LDL cholesterol. This is good because LDL cholesterol is what we generally think of as the “bad” cholesterol. It is responsible for the increased risks of heart disease and stroke. This is the type of cholesterol that will clog your arteries. Therefore, when we state that hormone therapy lowers cholesterol, understand that we mean LDL cholesterol.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, hormones, particularly estrogen, help to regulate the amount of LDL and HDL cholesterol within the body. The more estrogen a woman has, the more HDL and less LDL cholesterol she should have. However, as women age and they begin to lose estrogen, their risk for high cholesterol goes up. Similar to what was discussed regarding heart disease, optimizing these hormone levels at the right time, just before the onset of menopause, can help to prevent the adverse effects of low estrogen.
Potential Risks of Hormone Therapy
Before you begin hormone therapy, understand that, like any new medical treatment, you may experience some side effects. As long as you follow a doctor’s orders, you should not experience anything severe, but be certain that you are not self-administering hormones without a doctor’s guidance. As stated earlier, hormones play a vital role in communicating to the body systems what to do, when to do it, and for how long. If you disrupt your hormonal balance by not seeking a doctor’s advice, you could suffer many of the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance.
When following a doctor-approved regimen, you may experience:
- Bloating and nausea
Different hormonal treatments may have different side effects, so be sure to discuss the issue with your doctor before starting therapy. If you suffer any severe symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
How to Start Hormone Therapy
If you have recently gained unexplained weight, are suffering from fatigue, or are experiencing bouts of moodiness, you may be suffering a hormonal imbalance. If you believe you have any of the problems above, we recommend speaking to your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor should draw some blood to measure your existing hormone levels and, if an imbalance is found, prescribe the appropriate treatment plan.
Discuss your symptoms and explain your long-term health goals. The doctor may be able to treat several problems at once and set you up for a longer and healthier life. We recommend asking about potential benefits such as reduced risks of heart disease or diabetes.
Staying healthy means more than eating right and exercising. Take back control of your endocrine system and you will add years onto your life. Talk to your doctor and feel the benefits today.