Hormones affect everyone from birth to death, yet the word has a negative connotation. Most people use "raging hormones" to explain teenage angst, or "hormonal" to describe PMS in women, and maybe for good reason: hormonal symptoms have a lot to do with our lifestyle, diet, and environment.
Hormone problems are very common, so feeling like we're experiencing a hormonal balance, or a fluctuation in hormones, is not unusual. Statistics reveal about 80 percent of women suffer from some kind of hormonal imbalance, which results in a mix of physical and mental health challenges due to low estrogen and progesterone levels (female sex hormones), among many others. Men are also susceptible to hormonal imbalances caused by low testosterone or high estrogen levels.
Below are six of the most common signs of a hormonal imbalance you're probably ignoring:
A lack of sleep, or insomnia, is a common side effect of a hormonal imbalance. In men, this can be a sign of low testosterone levels. For men, levels of testosterone are the highest during sleep and require at least three hours of sleep to reach this peak, but sleep deprivation, aging, and physical problems can lead to reduction in sleep and changes to the stages of sleep men experience, according to a 2014 study.
In women, low progesterone levels are to blame for a poor night's sleep. A 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll found 33 percent of women say their sleep is disturbed during their menstrual cycles, and 16 percent report missing one or more days of work in the past month because of sleep problems. In total, 67 percent of women report having a sleep problem a few nights a week.
Before a woman gets her period, hormonal changes, including a sudden drop in levels of progesterone, affect the body's temperature control, which can reduce the amount of REM sleep where most of our dreams occur.
A hormonal imbalance can lead to a poor night's sleep and night sweats in between. Reduced progesterone in women may cause the body to experience estrogen dominance, such as hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain, among many others. Excessive cortisol blocks progesterone receptors, further contributing to low progesterone. These two imbalances are mainly why adrenaline exhaustion can lead to estrogen dominance.
Night sweats in men can be related to low testosterone levels. As men age, they lose one percent of testosterone per year after 40 years of age, according to Harvard Health. This isn’t known as “low T,” but if men start losing testosterone at a faster rate, they may have low T.
Bad sleep and night sweats can lead us to feel fatigue, but being tired even after getting eight hours of sleep could signal a hormonal imbalance. Although there are several causes responsible for this, insulin remains the main explanation, especially when insulin levels stay high due to the development of insulin resistance. A diet loaded with sugar and refined carbs, like white flour, can lead you to experience wild swings in blood sugar. This can make us feel tired, anxious, irritable, and hungry for these sugars.
A study published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity suggests these are classic signs of reactive hypoglycemia, and could be insulin resistance symptoms, which is more serious and a warning sign of diabetes.
A lack of interest in sex can be a sign of low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men. Estrogen levels drop in women around the time they hit menopause. Usually, the drop in estrogen leads to a thinning of the vaginal tissue, dryness and painful intercourse. If sex hurts and is not enjoyable, women are not likely to have intercourse as often. Similarly, in men, testosterone levels drop off after 40, a phenomenon known as "male menopause."
Breakouts before or after a woman's period is normal, but acne that won't clear up could be a symptom of hormone problems. An abundant amount of androgens — "male" hormones that both men and women have — can cause oil glands to overwork. They also affect the skin cells in and around the hair follicles. These can clog pores and cause acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Hormonal imbalances are prevalent, but knowing the signs can help lead to better treatments for a healthier lifestyle.