Blog: Signs of Hormone Imbalance and What To Do About It
By Cindy Smith
March 15, 2018
Janet is a 42-year-old woman I recently met with in my office. Her complaint sounded familiar. “I am just not myself, I am so anxious, irritable, and exhausted, but I can’t sleep either. I have lost all patience with my kids not to mention my husband. Sometimes he can just look at me and I will either get really upset or burst into tears. If I never have sex again, that would be fine too! I never used to be this way! I used to be pretty even keeled. Obviously this is causing quite a strain on my marriage. Not to mention, I have gained almost 20 lbs in the last year and have terrible sugar and junk food cravings. I did some reading on the internet and I thought it might be my hormones. I asked my doctor to check my hormones. He told me I was too young for hormone problems and that I just needed an antidepressant and to watch what I eat and exercise more. What is happening to me? I think I am going crazy. Do you think I’m crazy?”
Unfortunately, this is something I hear all too often. Janet is NOT crazy, I was quick to reassure her, but indeed her hormones are very likely very abnormal. Why does this seem to be such a contradiction? She was told “there is nothing wrong with her hormones.” Many women that I’ve seen have insisted on having their hormone levels tested only to be told, “See? There is nothing wrong with your hormones.” Antidepressants and birth control pills are often the only alternatives for women who suffer with mood swings, PMS, insomnia, anxiety, or irregular, heavy, or abnormal periods. Unfortunately, anti-depressants often lower sex drive and worsen weight gain already problematic for women with hormone issues. In reality, we may just not be looking in the right place for the answer.
When I was in pharmacy school more than 20 years ago, we learned that the only important hormone for women was estrogen. End of story. So if a woman needed hormones, she needed estrogen. If she didn’t need estrogen, she didn’t need hormones.
If you look at the way the body does it, it doesn’t work that way. The body also makes progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA. Curiously, the body makes estrogen last. A woman having menstrual cycles produces estrogen in the first ½ of the cycle, but the body doesn’t stop making hormones there. During the last 2 weeks of the cycle, the body produces the hormone progesterone. Both estrogen and progesterone must be produced in order for a woman to have a menstrual cycle. The problem for women often lies in having too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. (I’ll address why that happens in future blogs). Estrogen stimulates cell growth while progesterone takes that cell material and matures it and makes it more functional (differentiates it). If there is too much cell growth (too much estrogen stimulation), a woman may experience heavy cycles, passing clots, early cycles, etc. Breast tenderness or lumps in the breast referred to as fibrocystic breast disease may result as well. More serious examples would be endometriosis and uterine fibroids or even cancers of the uterus and breast. Progesterone also acts as the calming hormone, whereas estrogen is actually a stimulatory hormone. If you are missing progesterone in the last part of the cycle you can have PMS, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, mood swings, and severe fatigue. Migraine headaches with cycles are also associated with low progesterone levels.
The reality is that balancing hormones is more complex than just how much estrogen is present. Now that we know more about the way hormones work, we can create solutions tailored to fit each unique problem.
Rather than just putting a band-aid on the problem, we are able to test several hormone levels and address the underlying cause of symptoms with natural, bio-identical hormone replacement. These solutions are often more effective than birth control pills, which are synthetic derivatives of estrogen and progesterone and can actually lower natural levels of progesterone.
These pills, as well as antidepressants, work exactly as they should. The problem is that they aren’t the best answer for all hormonal imbalances. At the Center for Hormone Health, we use saliva samples to take a detailed look at hormone levels and come up with personalized treatment plans that will resolve the problem, not just mask symptoms.
Our bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is easy and safe to use. I am passionate about this issue because I see women every day who are resigned to feeling bad. They don’t feel hopeful about ever being able to resolve their symptoms and feel like themselves again. I love to work with them to help them identify the root cause of their issues and get their lives back!