“When our hormones are in balance, for the most part, our body functions like a well-oiled machine, but when the balance is off we become squeaky wheels” – Dr. Erika Schwartz from her book Hormone Solutions.
Personally, I have been way past the “squeaky wheel” stage. I can only imagine what the woman in this picture is saying – something like ”really…you need to just walk away”. I know…I have had these moments myself. Every day in my practice I see women complaining of the annoying ,and sometimes disabling symptoms related female hormonal imbalance. Earlier this month we discussed the concept of estrogen dominance and that the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone are often the underlying cause for many of the chronic hormonally mediated symptoms women experience throughout various life stages. In todays post I will discuss some of the common symptoms related to female hormonal imbalance .
Many of the hormonally mediated issues experienced in the teenage years are mediated by the imbalance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone as their young bodies continue to work on fine tuning hormonal balance. It is not uncommon for acne to rear its ugly head simultaneously with the onset of menses. Women pre-disposed to migraines often note the onset of their headaches when their menstrual cycles began. Many mothers can confirm the fact that teenaged girls are also prone to wide mood swings, in part, because their hormones are going through an adjustment period. As the mother of two daughters I understand that the term “wide mood swings” is clearly an understatement as it can be more like watching a scene from the movie ”Psycho” at times.
Hormonal imbalance in the child-bearing years can lead to infertility, which, in many cases, can be linked to inadequate progesterone leading to estrogen dominance. In particular, the hormonal imbalance in women with PCOS is associated with a higher rate of anovulatory cycles resulting in a greater incidence of infertility. Just as the hormonal shifts associated imbalance between estrogen & progesterone can cause chronic or cyclic symptoms in women, dramatic changes in hormones can potentially lead to debilitating symptoms for some women after childbirth. During pregnancy, high estrogen and progesterone levels are needed to support fetal development, however, immediately after birth, hormone levels take a major dive. This dramatic hormonal shift can lead to mood lability, fatigue, night sweats and post partum depression.
As we age, the “symphony of female hormones” starts to play a little out of tune so to speak. A variety of factors can impact hormonal variability leading to premenstrual symptoms, migraines and weight gain. Superimposed upon this is the increased stress and responsibility that goes along with our multiple roles and responsibilities. Our bodies begin to lack the high quality progesterone secretion that is at its peak in our twenties and early thirties and estrogen dominance reeks havoc on our bodies. Premenstrual symptoms, bloating and weight gain can all be related to this imbalance. In a similar fashion, migraines are often the result of the impact that unopposed estrogen has on the blood vessels in our head and scalp, leading to blood vessel dilation or widening.
As the saga continues, our hormones become increasingly more out of balance the closer we get to menopause. While menopause itself is associated with a wide array of symptoms, the hormonal imbalance leading up to this is often understated and overlooked. Too often women present to their health care providers with symptoms associated with peri-menopause and leave feeling more confused than when they went in. They may undergo hormonal lab testing and told that they are “normal” and that they are not “in menopause”. What exactly does that mean? Menopause is merely a point in time where a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for one full year. What about the 5 – 15 years of hormonal variability that occurs before that arbitrary day? Once again, we are left hanging out to dry….
Not only is the list of peri-menopausal symptoms exhausting, it is somewhat unique to the individual woman. Some of the common signs and symptoms women experience are as follows;
Hot flashes are the “thorn in our sides” so to speak and seem to be one of the most bothersome symptoms associated with the menopausal state. Hot flashes can range from barely detectable to very severe and debilitating for some women. Hot flashes are the result of blood vessel dilation that occurs in response to the effect of unopposed estrogen stimulation. In turn, the pituitary gland surges out LH (leutenizing hormone) in an effort to stimulate ovulation and progesterone release which short circuits our body’s thermostat. Anxiety, depression and insomnia are also a result of the estrogen – progesterone imbalance seen in the peri-menopausal time frame which decreases levels of our “feel good hormones” such as serotonin released from the brain.
The onset of menopause is characterized by the onset of ovarian failure, a progressive decline in estrogen and loss of progesterone. While our primary source of progesterone comes from ovulation, estrogen can be metabolized the adrenal glands and our fat cells. Later this week I will discuss the lifestyle changes that will help tame your raging hormones. Next week I will help you navigate through the evidence and controversy surrounding traditional versus bio-identical hormone therapy.