Hormone imbalance doesn’t just happen in menopause – it can hit as soon as your 30s. Here are the signs and how to treat it.
“Hormone imbalance.” It’s a problem you probably associate with menopause. Something you don’t need to worry about until mid-life, right?
“Then how come,” you ask yourself, “I’m feeling just a bit off lately?”
The truth is, hormone decline starts to happen around your mid 30s. This is a normal process, but still a startling one for most women. Once you hit 35, hormonal decline begins to take place, making early intervention critical for those who want to maintain the same feelings of vibrancy they enjoyed previously.
“But wait,” you may be saying. “How can I know for sure if it’s hormonal imbalance that I’m experiencing, and not some other health issue?”
Good question. Here are the typical symptoms associated with hormonal decline, and the specific factors causing them:
Weight gain (the kind that’s stubborn to lose):
As we get older – i.e., beyond the 35 year-old mark – our progesterone production usually begins to slow down, and this process can be sped up by stress. When progesterone goes down, estrogen tends to go up, resulting in a state called “estrogen dominance.” Having too much estrogen in your system affects all kinds of body functions, but as it relates to weight gain, let’s turn now to your thyroid.
Your thyroid health is critical to a healthy metabolism, which of course informs your weight, and how easy it is to manage. But overproduction of estrogen actually prompts your liver to produce high levels of TBG, or “thyroid binding globulin.” As the name suggests, this binds protein binds thyroid hormone upon its release, making it harder for your cells to intake and use thyroid hormone correctly.
This results in a body state called hypothyroidism, which shuts down more than just your metabolism. It also can lead to…
Have you suddenly turned into an insomniac? Here again, hypothyroidism – prompted by estrogen dominance, prompted by low progesterone production – could be one of the culprits. But the key phrase here is “one of.”
Whereas progesterone is your calming, restful hormone, estrogen is a stimulant. When in balance, estrogen (in concert with testosterone) supplies your pep and verve, but when it’s out of balance, estrogen can keep you up at night, sapping your energy for the next day. Too much estrogen can also interfere with melatonin production, the brain hormone that makes you sleepy at night.
Progesterone production can be adversely affected by stress, and if you experience chronic stress levels, then that obviously will be reflected in your mood. But mood swings aren’t just caused by external factors (demanding boss, road rage, etc.). They arise from internal factors, too.
Besides working in concert with each other, estrogen and progesterone also affect the production of serotonin: your brain’s soothing hormone. When estrogen and progesterone are working properly, being produced at appropriate levels, they help facilitate the firing of several neurotransmitters, serotonin chief among them, as well as dopamine – the hormone most intimately connected to pleasure. But when the delicate dance of estrogen and progesterone is interrupted, so too are several of your other hormones responsible for regulating happiness and mental stability. This can of course prompt…
Oh PMS, our old frenemy. Would it shock you to know, though, that some women aren’t doubled over with cramps, tears, and general everyone-get-away-from-me! vibes right before their period?
In the run up to menstruation, your hormone levels do fluctuate – naturally. But here again, when progesterone is too low, and estrogen is too high, unpleasant things happen. In addition to the symptoms listed above, overproduction of estrogen can also trigger increased levels of cortisol: the stress hormone. This is why tiny things that you’d normally brush off (say, in the first couple of weeks after menstruation) can prompt a sudden crying spell, or the sudden urge to scream. Sound familiar?
By now you’re probably seeing how crucial the interplay between estrogen and progesterone is, but let’s say you don’t experience the above symptoms so much. Weight is OK, sleep is alright, moods and PMS are average…but for the life of you, you just can’t find your keys. (Or cell phone, wallet, debit card, etc.)
If you feel like you’re having trouble focusing or remembering, then here too, we can call on hormone levels for a boost. Estrogen helps connects our brain circuitry, and in proper levels, facilitates processes like memory and reasoning. When estrogen production is in a healthy state, it can strengthen the dendrites (nerve endings in your brain) that wrap up cognitive functions (“my keys are on….MY DESK!”). But when hormone levels are out of balance, they aren’t getting the crucial alley-oop they need from your estrogen.
Poor skin, hair, and nails
That brings us lastly to skin, hair, and nails. Many of us assume that brittle nails, a sallow complexion, and thinning hair are just part of getting older – but that’s not the case.
There can be several ways hormone imbalances can manifest in your looks. When estrogen is too low, for example, collagen production is decreased, resulting in skin that isn’t as plump or “springy” as it used to be. But when estrogen is too high, testosterone can raise too, causing thinning (or even shedding) hair. Low progesterone, which, as we all know, tips the see-saw up for estrogen, very often results in cracking, splitting nails, and patches of dry, peeling skin.
So you can see that there are a variety of ways out-of-whack hormones find their way to your looks. But you don’t have to accept lackluster skin, hair, and nails as fate.
While all these problems get worse with age, they’re accelerated by endocrine disruptors most of us are exposed to on a daily basis. Parabens in cosmetics and shampoos, plastic bottles, non-stick pans, and hormone-treated meat are just some of the everyday items that can invisibly mess with your delicate hormone balance, bringing on the aging process faster than you’d like.
“But which of my hormones are being affected by all this?” you might be wondering.
A-ha! For women, that knowledge is the key to treatment.
For overall wellness, the main hormones that must be in balance are progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. Progesterone and estrogen in particular work in concert with one another, and progesterone is the key youth hormone for women. Similar to the youthful effect testosterone has in men, progesterone in women is responsible for nearly all the mental and physical traits associated with youth and vitality in a younger woman.
Let’s take weight, for example. How does low progesterone affect it? When your body doesn’t produce enough of it, the conditions are created for estrogen dominance. When estrogen levels are normal, they work in conjunction with insulin to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But when estrogen levels aren’t kept in check (by, say, progesterone), you can become insulin resistant, meaning insulin doesn’t do its job regulating glucose properly. As a result, your body stores the glucose as fat.
What’s more? Healthy progesterone levels help you sleep better. When you toss and turn, your levels of leptin – the hormone associated with your appetite – gets disrupted. So balancing progesterone has a dual benefit in this scenario, by helping you feel more rested (ahh), and less apt to wake up with the munchies after a fitful night’s sleep.
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