Feeling bloated, irritable, or just not your best? A hormone imbalance could be to blame. Hormones are chemical “messengers” that impact the way your cells and organs function.
It’s normal for your levels to shift at different times of your life, such as before and during your period or a pregnancy, or during menopause. But some medications and health issues can cause them to go up or down, too.
1. Irregular periods
Most women’s periods come every 21 to 35 days. If yours doesn’t arrive around the same time every month, or you skip some months, it might mean that you have too much or too little of certain hormones (oestrogen and progesterone).
If you’re in your 40s or early 50s — the reason can be perimenopause — the time before menopause. But irregular periods can be a symptom of health problems like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
2. Sleep problems
If you aren’t getting enough, or if the sleep you get isn’t good, your hormones could be at play.
Progesterone, a hormone released by your ovaries, helps you sleep as it is a natural relaxant so if your levels are lower than usual, that can make it hard to fall and stay asleep.
Low oestrogen can trigger night sweats, both of which can make it tough to get the rest you need.
3. Chronic acne
A breakout before or during your period is normal. But acne that won’t clear up can be a symptom of hormone problems and is not restricted to younger women.
An excess of androgens (“male” hormones that both men and women have) can cause your oil glands to overwork.
Androgens also affect the skin cells in and around your hair follicles. Both of those things can clog your pores and cause acne.
4. Memory fog
Experts aren’t sure exactly how hormones impact your brain but what they do know is that changes in oestrogen and progesterone can make your head feel “foggy” and make it harder for you to remember things.
Some experts think hormones might impact brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Attention and memory problems are especially common during perimenopause and menopause.
But they can also be a symptom of other hormone-related conditions, like thyroid disease, so always discuss with your doctor know if you’re having trouble thinking clearly.
5. Stomach problems
Your gut is lined with tiny cells called receptors that respond to oestrogen and progesterone.
When these hormones are higher or lower than usual, you might notice changes in how you’re digesting food. That’s why diarrhoea, stomach pain, bloating, and nausea can crop up or get worse before and during your period.u
If you’re having digestive woes as well as issues like acne and fatigue, your hormone levels might be out of balance.
6. Ongoing fatigue
Are you tired all the time? Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
So if your thyroid — the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck — makes too little thyroid hormone, it can sap your energy.
A simple blood test called a thyroid panel can tell you if your levels are too low. If they are, you can get medication which many women at menopause can find helpful.
7. Mood swings and depression
Feeling low or anxious is something that everyone can experience from time to time, but it may be related to levels of dopamine, and norepinephrine.
But other hormones, that travel the same paths as neurotransmitters, also play a part in how you feel.
Dr Jeffrey Dach, a bioidentical expert from the USA, recommends that a combination of both oestrogen and progesterone can be helpful for both mood swings and depression.
8. Appetite and weight gain
When you’re feeling blue or irritated, as you can be when your hormones levels dip, you may want to eat more.
That might be why drops in the hormone are linked to weight gain.
Lots of things can trigger these. But for some women, changing levels of oestrogen bring them on. That’s why it’s common for headaches to strike right before or during your period, when oestrogen is on the decline.
Regular headaches or ones that often surface around the same time each month can be a clue that your levels of this hormone might be shifting.
10. Vaginal dryness
It’s normal to have this occasionally. But if you often notice that you’re dry or irritated down there, low estrogen may be the reason. The hormone helps vaginal tissue stay moist and comfortable. If your estrogen drops because of an imbalance, it can reduce vaginal fluids and cause tightness.
11. Loss of libido
Most people think of testosterone as a male hormone, but women’s bodies make it, too. If your testosterone levels are lower than usual, you might have less of an interest in sex than you usually do.
In women progesterone is a precursor for testosterone in the body so having low levels of progesterone can be helped by supplementing this hormone.
12. Breast changes
A drop in oestrogen can make your breast tissue less dense. And an increase in the hormone can thicken this tissue, even causing new lumps or cysts.
Always report any changes to your doctor, even if you don’t have any other symptoms that concern you.
As we can see, hormone imbalance can I have a number of different effects, and can affect the woman at any stage of her life.
Ensuring that you have good levels of the essential female hormones progesterone and oestrogen is a good first start and, if you are not sure which hormone you might need more of, the article below will be helpful.
Which hormone or hormones might you need?