What Are The Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance?

Heather Dessinger

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We already know that our heartbeats sometimes synchronize with those we love, but can cuddling accelerate wound healing? Yes! Cuddling and other types of loving affection stimulate the release of oxytocin- also known as the “bonding hormone” – which has been shown to:

  1. protect the heart (source)
  2. accelerate wound healing (source 1, source 2, source 3)
  3. convince you to share your last piece of cauliflower crust pizza with someone you love

I don’t have a study for that last one, but you know it’s true!

When our hormones are working properly, they’re like really good dance partners that two-step through life with us. Or glide. Or bebop. Whatever your style, the point is this: As they dance, sometimes one will start to fall behind or step ahead, creating a hormone imbalance.

Since every cell in our body has receptors for hormones, when something is out of step it can affect seemingly unrelated systems, including the brain, the digestive system, and energy levels.

Before we get to specific signs of hormone imbalance and what they mean, I want you to meet my co-author for this series on balancing hormones. Dr. Natcha Maithai, PhD, FDN-P, RHN is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner with a PhD in molecular genetics. She’s passionate about empowering women with hormone balance, and I’m so thrilled to have collaborated with her on this article and several more that will be coming soon.

Okay, let’s jump in!


Estrogen and Progesterone – the Tale of Two Dancers

Most of the time, when we talk about our hormones, we talk about our sex hormones, i.e. estrogen and progesterone, which are made by our ovaries and adrenals. When functioning optimally, estrogen and progesterone dance perfectly to the rhythm that is our monthly cycle.

Every month, estrogen builds up our uterine tissue in preparation for ovulation and pregnancy. In addition, estrogen also makes our brains more sensitive to serotonin, which makes us bubbly and happy (source). Estrogen and higher serotonin also suppresses appetite, which is why we often get hungrier after ovulation. (source)

On the opposing side we have progesterone, which rises as estrogen falls following ovulation. Progesterone maintains our uterine lining during the luteal phase, as well as pregnancy. In addition, progesterone helps us sleep and quiets our anxiety by making our brain cells more sensitive to the calming neurotransmitter called GABA. (source)


What Causes Hormone Imbalances?

As we discussed earlier, women’s hormones are particularly delicate because we have many hormones that rise and fall together every cycle like a fine-tuned dance. Because our hormones prepare us for pregnancy, mother nature doesn’t want us to become pregnant when conditions are not ideal. Therefore, our hormones are much more sensitive to stress and lifestyle factors than men’s.

The grandmaster of our hormones, the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain, keeps tabs on our stress levels, our nutrient levels, how much fat we have on our bodies, how inflamed or toxic we are, how much sleep we get etc. Then, the grandmaster will tell the thyroid, adrenals, and ovaries to produce the appropriate levels of hormones, given the situation. After the hormones are used up, our liver steps in to break down the used hormones.

The primary causes of hormone imbalances are lifestyle factors, including:

  • Stress can raise cortisol, which can cause a pattern of hormone imbalance called estrogen dominance due to reduced progesterone. In addition, stress can reduce our thyroid function while stealing the resources that our bodies need to make other sex hormones.
  • Deranged circadian rhythm – Our hormone grandmaster works in sync with our body clock, which syncs with the day/night rhythm. Many women have hormone imbalances because they are not sleeping well or have deranged circadian rhythm from nighttime blue light exposure. Here are some steps you can take to reduce blue light exposure and optimize your circadian rhythm for sleep.
  • Chronic inflammation taxes the stress response system and can have the same effect on hormones as other types of chronic stress (source). This type of stress tends to dial hormones toward weight gain and insulin resistance (source).
  • Hormone disruptors and toxins can interfere with estrogen metabolism, especially in the breakdown of excess estrogens. Hormone disruptors, especially xenoestrogens like BPAs, parabens, and perfume, can therefore contribute to estrogen dominance.
  • Blood sugar problems can be very stressful to our bodies. In women, high blood sugar or insulin resistance can lead to increased testosterone, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Conversely, low blood sugar is stressful to the body and can contribute to stress-related hormone imbalances.


Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance

Symptoms of hormone imbalance are so common now that they may seem like the new normal, but they really are not. Here’s a list of some of some common symptoms:

  • PMS
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Digestive problems
  • Increased appetite (often in the form of sugar cravings)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irregular cycles
  • Low libido
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed or burned out

Fortunately, once we identify our hormone imbalances and are able to link the lifestyle root causes that led to the problem, we can take steps to balance our hormones naturally.


Patterns of Hormone Imbalance

Earlier we talked about the dance between estrogen and progesterone. Now let’s take a look at what happens when one or both of these fall out of step:

The most common patterns of hormone imbalance are estrogen dominance and adrenal fatigue, which can happen at the same time.

Estrogen dominance is when we have too much estrogen relative to progesterone. Many women with estrogen dominance have outright high estrogen, which can present a cancer risk. (source) However, it is possible to have estrogen dominance with low estrogen, with even lower progesterone, which is why it is beneficial to get your hormones tested.

Another benefit of testing is that many symptoms can be related, so it is sometimes challenging to pinpoint what’s going on. For example, depression may be related to excess estrogen, low estrogen, excess androgens or low thyroid. (source) Here’s a guide to hormone testing that may be helpful.

Adrenal fatigue, or HPA axis dysfunction, refers to patterns of hormone imbalances caused by chronic stress, deranged circadian rhythm, and blood sugar problems.

In early stage adrenal fatigue, the body produces higher-than-normal levels of hormones that help our bodies manage stress: cortisol and DHEA. These hormones are meant to help us deal with short-term stress (think running away from tigers) rather than chronic stress. In later stage adrenal fatigue, the constant demands made on our adrenal glands impair their ability to produce the hormones it usually makes: cortisol, DHEA, plus estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Sunshine forest trees. Sun through green forest nature. Forest in light. Summer forest. Tranquility of green forest nature

Three Things You Can Start Doing Now

Children’s cells live on in their mother’s bodies long after birth – up to several decades – and researchers believe they sometimes come to the mother’s aid during illness or trauma. Our heartbeats sometimes synchronize with loved ones when they’re nearby. Our bodies are so connected to our environment that taking a stroll in a forest raises immune function. If there’s anything we can learn from human body, it’s that our bodies work in intricate unison in amazing ways we are just beginning to understand.

With that in mind, our hormones do not simply throw themselves off balance without reason. If you are experiencing hormone imbalances, your body is probably doing it’s very best to keep things afloat in a storm of modern stresses.

Here are three things you can start right now to help balance hormones:

  1. Get deep, restorative sleep
  2. Eat a healthy, nutritious diet that is blood sugar friendly
  3. Reboot your body’s stress response

Ready to dive deeper?

Here are the next two posts in this series:

About the authors: This article was coauthored by Heather Dessinger Dr. Natcha Maithai (PhD). Dr. Maithai is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner with a PhD in molecular genetics. After becoming frustrated with hormonal problems that went undiagnosed despite her best efforts, Dr. Maithai applied tools she learned as a cancer researcher to dive into available scientific literature and find a holistic solution. You can find her health insights, biohacking tips, and information about working with her on her website, Natcha Maithai.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Cabeca, a gynecologist and obstetrician and a menopause and sexual health expert. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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27 thoughts on “What Are The Symptoms of Hormone Imbalance?”

    • Totally agree, I was just wondering if I had an hormone imbalance during a meditation this morning!!!! Talk about perfect timing! 😉 and I just might actually.. that would explain a few things… 😉 Thanks a lot for that great article! 🙂 Looking forward to next one! 🙂

  1. Pretty sure I have estrogen dominance and am desperate to know ways to improve it naturally. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  2. Thanks for this. Looking forward to more. I have been struggling for some time, several years anyway. I have 4 children, my oldest is 13 and my youngest in 4, which I breastfed each for 2 years each. I work part-time as a nurse, night shifts on the weekend. Over the years, I have had many insults to my hormonal balance, or rather, imbalance now.

    My first symptom was anxiety. I would get throbbing in my neck and a sense that by breath was being pulled out of me. I had no idea what was going on. It would come at times that I wasn’t even feeling anxious, or so I thought. Once I realized what was going on, I began treating with E.O. and herbs and made better attempts to get better sleep.

    Now, my symptoms are moving towards mild depression that correlates to my cycle with perfection. It’s as if I can see the dark clouds coming my way, and then it settles over my head and stays there until the day my period starts. I am moody, easily overwhelmed, angry at times, and just down right blue. Also, as the dark cloud rolls in, my breasts get VERY sore. This hasn’t happened ever in my life before, but it does now with a vengeance. As soon as I ovulate, then very tender, swollen breasts.

    After doing some research on hormonal imbalances, I know for certain this is why I am struggling. My husband and I talk about it at length, and his deep love for me shows in his support. I took Maca as a supplement for a month and got great relief! This is what tipped me off to what is going on, honestly. When I took Maca, no sore breasts. The others symptoms have a deeper seed, and I can’t really report how I felt with only a month of Maca under my belt.

    Anyway, I read this entire article out loud to my husband. We both breathed a sign of relief because I sounded so textbook in relation to symptoms and lifestyle.

    I am working towards changing shifts to avoid working all night. I know this is the biggest change I need to make, but after almost 13 years of doing so, it will not be an easy change for me. Also, I started the GAPS diet. It seems severe but drastic changes need to happen. I need joy and peace and I long for it to spill out of me back to my family. I hope to add Maca back in once I experience some healing on the diet.

    I will say after only 10 days on the diet, my mind already feels clearer, and I am beginning to wake each day with a smile.

    Thanks for your concern and attention with an important topic! So much look forward to reading more!

    God Bless!

    • I needed to read your comment as much as this article. You’ll be a push for me to make changes as you’ve begun, as my situation is SO similar to yours. Thank you for taking the time to write this out for others to read.

        • If only so many other women would delve into their health problems as you have (and the rest of us reading this article) instead of being robots walking into the doctor’s office without a clue. Thanks for your reply Jenika and I look forward to more info on this topic of hormones too.

  3. I’ve had hormonal imbalances for years. was on the pill for 5 years, went off it and discovered I have PCOS. After trying to treat my acne with supplements I became pregnant after previously never ovulating. Now I’ve been nursing for a year and my skin is horrible, I’m very very thin, and I’m exhausted. I want to wean my daughter solely to go back on the pill (honestly I don’t know what else to do because I’ve tried everything). It’s terribly hard. I don’t know the solution. I just want my skin clear like it was when I took the pill.

  4. Thanks for a great article! I also want to mention that head trauma, including concussion, is another possible source of hormone imbalance.

  5. The timing couldn’t be better on this! I am in the process of all this as well as Adrenal fatigue and hormonal changes… so fun! ☹️

  6. Looking forward to more on this subject! Have been dealing with peri-menopause and think I’m almost out of it. Still a hot flash here and there but not like last it was @ a year ago.I’m 54 and had my daughter at 41. Have been trying to keep anxiety and stress at bay with EOs and trying to get back into transcendental meditation, but it’s hard! It’s like I fell of a train and am running to get back on, so more tips on stress relief are priceless. When all the turmoil started (bad mental fog, sugar cravings, sleeping issues, depression, digestion troubles) I started several supplements that have helped immensely; Maca for for hormonal issues, Acetyl-L-Carnitine for brain fog, Eos to calm me down like clary sage, chromium picolinate to help digest when ate sugary stuff, digestive enzymes with every meal to get my stomach HCL production going, and DHEA and other supplements for my adrenal fatigue… Long list of stuff, and it doesn’t include all the basic stuff. Still a little ways to go, and articles like this are encouraging and educational. Thanks!!

  7. Thank you for your easy-to-understand explanation of our hormones and their functions. I’m looking forward to learning more.

  8. This is wonderful timing for me as well. I learned about a year ago that I have endometriosis and have been working to better understand my hormone levels and factors that can influence them. Having experiences significant hair loss while on the pill, I’m now investigating more more natural and holistic approaches to address the imbalance. I’ll definitely stay tuned!

  9. Hello,
    Thank you for the good information.
    I would love to learn about hormon inbalances that cased by menapose and post menapose. (And of course other like stress, sleepless nights)
    I can not find a good solution for vaginal dryness. I would love to learn more about it.
    Thanks a lot again. I love your posts.

  10. I had my baby 2 months ago and was wondering why I have digestive issuers and low libido. Thank you for your post. What I gathered from it is: be more calm, use red lightbulb avoid phone at night… And don’t eat so much chocolate and bread 🙂

  11. Thank you for this!
    I’m curious.. have you ever heard of a woman still having Breast milk years after nursing? I haven’t nursed in 32 months and still have milk. It’s been tested by the doctors and no one seems to know what the issue is. Also no dr seems to think it’s that serious. But I can’t seem get rid of it! my husband and I are trying to get pregnant again, it’s been 3 months and still no luck. So I feel it has something to do with my hormones. Anyways.. sorry for the novel! Just wondering if you’ve heard of such a thing.

    • Hi! I’m not a doctor or expert…just a mom. My thoughts when reading your comment was it could be what shes eating. Let me explain:
      I had trouble making milk for my youngest and I had to eat a lot of foods that I normally wouldn’t have eaten (really just peanut butter) in order to increase my milk supply. there are plenty of foods that I was already eating too that helped increase my supply (carrots, green leafy vegetables, green beans etc.) I gained tons of weight (because of that stinking peanut butter) too. But hey we do what we have to for our children. This was years ago and she’s 7 now. I breast fed her till she was 3 1/2. Sorry to ramble BUT I said all this to say that maybe you could be eating foods, herbs and spices that are helping your body to produce milk. So maybe look at your diet to see if something is causing lactation.
      Umm, on a more personal note…I’ve also read that “stimulation” of the breasts/areola/nipples help the body prepare for lactation during pregnancy. I don’t know how much this occurs for you and your husband. But maybe that could play a hand in your body continuing the lactation process as well.
      I do hope your issue is resolved. In the meantime I would suggest that you check to see if there are any MILK BANKS nearby. Milk banks collect donated breast milk from donors for babies in need. You can check out themilkbank.org for more info about it and find milk banks throughout the US.
      And P.S. I also hope you conceive soon. but don’t stress about it and don’t turn it into a job. just relax, enjoy one another, and let it happen naturally.

  12. Waiting to read more articles. Especially about having hormones tested.

    Current period was very late starting and now will not end, it seems. It has lasted, so far, two full weeks with no end in sight.

  13. Thanks for this! Because of you, I am in the midst of reading “The Hormone Cure”. I am 49 YO and had my daughter at 40. I just started experiencing erratic periods but the mood swings have always been part of my PMS routine only now more intense. I can so relate to the symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, insomnia (mostly due to leg cramps), unstable libido… I know there’s work to be done on my diet (sugar, wheat, dairy in particular, ughhh).

  14. Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) face pads help keep acne away by scrubbing open clogged pores, oily residues and exfoliation. Feel a pimple coming just wet a pad, place it on the pimple and remove it when dry. Sit back and watch pimple disappear. Works on body acne too.
    These pads also help reduce skin hyperpigmentation (acne scars).
    Try it and see the difference.

  15. Hi- Hope this email finds you well. I noticed my one year old daughter breast is big for her age. Do you think her hormones is in balance? What can I do to decrease it?