Hormones play an important role in the body’s functions. A hormonal imbalance throws the body into disarray and affects overall health and well-being. Understanding the function of hormones and knowing what it looks like when hormones are out of balance helps you restore and maintain good health.
The endocrine system is present in all mammals, including human beings. The system includes:
The endocrine system regulates all biological processes in the body from birth to death. This includes the brain and nervous system development, reproductive system function, metabolism, and blood sugar levels.
The glands involved in the endocrine system include:
Hormones are chemical messengers released into the bloodstream by glands. They travel to various organs and inform the development and function of these organs. More than 50 hormones play a role in the human body’s functions.
Examples of processes affected or controlled by hormones include:
Many of the body’s hormones work like a lock and key. They bind to receptors produced within cells, which carry the instructions provided by the hormones to the appropriate organ, tissue, or cell. It then works by altering the cell’s proteins or turning on genes that work to build a new protein. Hormones switch on and off specific biological processes in the body’s tissues, cells, and organs.
Hormones play a vital role in your health. Hormones regulate:
Hormones are everywhere throughout your body. A variety of symptoms arises when one or more hormones is out of balance.
Because hormones play such a significant role in the body’s functions, an imbalance affects health. Too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream causes symptoms throughout the body.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with hormone imbalance include:
One of the most important roles hormones play in the female body is controlling the menstrual cycle. It plays a role in both phases of the menstrual cycle, including:
During the follicular phase, the hypothalamus produces gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which triggers the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH travels through the bloodstream to the ovaries where it triggers the growth of a follicle sac that is where the egg develops.
Follicles also produce estrogen as they develop and mature. It takes about 10 to 13 days for estrogen levels to reach their peak. The high level of estrogen alerts the brain and pituitary gland to the maturity of the egg, which results in the release of luteinizing hormone (LH). This surge of LH alerts the follicle to allow the mature egg to break free and travel into the fallopian tube. This is known as ovulation and is the phase in which pregnancy occurs.
Once the egg is released, the remaining follicle, now known as the corpus luteum, begins to release the hormone progesterone. Progesterone helps thicken and prepare the uterus for the implantation of a fertilized egg. This continues throughout the entire luteal phase, which is about 12 to 16 days. If fertilization of the egg does not occur, the corpus luteum shrinks and stops making progesterone. The uterine lining then sheds in response to no supporting hormones, which is known as menstruation or a period.
This is the completion of the cycle. The drop in estrogen and progesterone signals the hypothalamus to begin the cycle again.
Stress causes hormonal imbalance. Short-term stress that occurs in response to emergencies causes hormones to flood into the system, which helps you respond to your circumstances.
But when stress is chronic, hormone levels remain elevated and are chronically imbalanced. Stress also exacerbates existing health endocrine disorders related to hormonal imbalances, such as obesity and Graves’ disease.
Hormones most closely linked to stress include:
A hormonal imbalance affects your entire body. It can trigger a variety of symptoms, including:
Depending on the hormones out of balance in your body, it could specifically affect your menstrual cycle.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalance that affect female reproduction include:
Irregular periods are the most common symptom of hormonal imbalance when it comes to sex hormones. Irregular is defined as periods that occur less than 24 days apart or more than 38 days apart. It’s also irregular if you experience cycle changes of more than 20 days each month.
Keep in mind, irregular periods are normal when an adolescent first begins menstruating and as a woman ages and transitions to perimenopause. This is the phase leading up to menopause and usually begins around age 45.
There are many causes of hormonal imbalance that affect the menstrual cycle. One of the most common is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which occurs when benign cysts develop on the ovaries.
In addition to aging and other issues, polycystic ovary syndrome causes many of the symptoms listed above including irregular periods, facial hair growth, acne, and irregularity. It’s very common and one of the most common causes of hormonal imbalances. In may cases, birth control is used as treatment for PCOS because it affects estrogen and progesterone levels and eliminates symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
The Ultimate Guide to At-Home Hormone Testing: What you need to know.
US EPA,OCSPP. “What Is the Endocrine System? | US EPA.” US EPA, 6 Feb. 2019, www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption/what-endocrine-system.
Ranabir, Salam, and K Reetu. “Stress and Hormones.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, vol. 15, no. 1, 2011, p. 18, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/, 10.4103/2230-8210.77573.